Xiao Wangye was over twenty years old, and it was no longer appropriate to keep living in the palace. He had picked a house in the capital before, and he was moving in today.
Xiao Wangye moved into his new residence in a low-key manner. No one even congratulated him. He merely invited his neighbor who lived a block away from his mansion1The character used for the word mansion here is actually 府 (fǔ). Fu here can also simply mean “official residence” or “palace.”
I call Yan-daren’s home as Yan Residence, while Xiao Wangye’s is a mansion, but both residence and mansion are actually translated from the same character 府.
Back then, Yan-daren was saying his home was “too crude,” so it felt inappropriate to use “mansion,” since, in English, that sounds something only the rich would have. As for Xiao Jiu’s, I chose not to use “palace” to avoid confusion with the actual palace where the Emperor is..
This neighbor was Yan-daren.
After leaving court, Yan-daren came to pay a visit. When he entered, Xiao Wangye was making tea in the courtyard.
The entire courtyard of the Wang Mansion was modeled after the gardens in Jiangnan2Jiangnan is a geographic area in China referring to lands immediately to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, including the southern part of its delta. (Wikipedia). There were stone bridges, little streams, and waterside pavilions. Xiao Wangye puffed up his chest with pride and said, “All of these were designed by this Wang himself.”
When Yan-daren saw the dozens of orange-yellow koi being raised in the pond, Xiao Wangye introduced, “These fishes can bring good fortune.”
Yan-daren also saw a flock of birds chirping and flying around the courtyard. He asked, “What can those pigeons bring?”
Xiao Wangye smiled and said, “They can bring Yan-gege’s letter.”
Yan-daren laughed. “The Wang Mansion isn’t that far. I can walk faster than the pigeons.”
“That’s not the same.” Xiao Wangye explained, “I want to relive the feeling of Yan-gege writing me letters from the barracks.”
After speaking, Xiao Wangye thought of something, and blinking his eyes, he asked Yan-daren, “Yan-gege, do you still have the letters I wrote to you back then?”
Yan-daren was taken aback. Touching his nose, he said vaguely, “I still have them.”
Xiao Wangye led Yan-daren around every corner in the mansion, and was about to go back making tea when Yan-daren’s tall figure blocked his way.
Xiao Wangye looked at him in confusion.
Yan-daren looked solemn. He deliberately lowered his voice and asked in Xiao Wangye’s ear: “Wangye, what’s with those guards outside? I can tell they are people from the palace. Is the Emperor putting you under house arrest?”
The smile on Xiao Wangye’s face gradually faded, and he bit on his lip without making a sound.
Yan-daren waited for a while, thinking that he wouldn’t be able to wait for his answer like before. Just then, Xiao Wangye suddenly opened his mouth and said in a low voice, “If Yan-gege wants to listen, then follow me.”
Yan-daren followed Xiao Wangye into the bedroom. He watched Xiao Wangye close the doors and the windows carefully, then checking them again before returning to sit next to him. Xiao Wangye breathed deeply and said, “Actually, this Wang should’ve been the one to inherit the title of Emperor.”
Two years ago, in autumn, the Old Emperor suddenly became seriously ill. The imperial doctors came and went back and forth to diagnose him for several months. The entire imperial court knew that the Old Emperor’s time was running out.
The Old Emperor had always loved Xiao Wangye the most. Xiao Wangye would keep him and take care of him by the bedside everyday. Wiping the Old Emperor’s sweat and feeding him medicine was also personally done by him.
In the last few days, the Old Emperor’s mind was sometimes sober and sometimes muddled. One day, while the Prime Minister was giving an official report, the Old Emperor suddenly got up from bed and said that he wanted to pass the throne to Xiao Wangye.
Both Xiao Wangye and the Prime Minister were shocked and said that this was absolutely impossible. However, the Old Emperor seemed to have made up his mind, and he insisted on issuing an imperial edict, regardless of their dissuasions.
A few days later after that, the Old Emperor rode on a crane to the west3驾鹤西去 – A euphemism for death in his sleep.
After the death of the Old Emperor, Xiao Wangye and the Prime Minister wanted to conceal the matter for the sake of the overall situation. However, they never expected that the matter would be leaked overnight and spread in the palace as a rumor.
Later, although the current Emperor ascended the throne smoothly, he was always on guard against Xiao Wangye. As Yan-daren could see in the beginning, Xiao Wangye had been retained in the palace and couldn’t go out without authorization. Later, the Prime Minister’s daughter was used to prevent the Prime Minister from defecting. Now, heavy troops were sent to monitor Xiao Wangye’s every move…
Xiao Wangye told Yan-daren all the ins and outs. After speaking, both of them were silent for a long time, and the room was so quiet that only the sound of their breathing could be heard.
Outside the door came the sound of Pearl’s loud cry: “Wangye, your tea is ready.”
Xiao Wangye sniffed, tried to calm his breathing, and said, “Let’s set it aside first.”
When Pearl’s footsteps were far away, Yan-daren asked quietly, “Where is the imperial edict now?”
Xiao Wangye got up and went to the bookshelf. Turning around one of the jade bottles, a dark case immediately appeared in the middle of the bookshelf. Inside was a golden scroll.
Yan-daren was stunned on the spot. Xiao Wangye choked on a sob and grabbed Yan-daren’s sleeve, his voice full of the grievances and uneasiness he had never been able to talk about all these years.
“Yan-gege, I have never thought of seizing the throne. I myself know that I don’t have Emperor-gege’s foresight. I am not suitable, but nobody wants to believe me…”
Xiao Wangye’s voice became smaller and smaller, his eyes glistening with tears as he looked at Yan-daren. Then in that instant, Yan-daren felt a burst of pain in his chest. Without much thought, he drew the person into his embrace.
Yan-daren understood Xiao Wangye’s situation. If this imperial edict was not handed over, then Xiao Wangye would forever be a big threat to the Emperor. However, if it was handed over, then without the protection of the edict of the former Emperor, then perhaps his life would truly be in danger.
Yan-daren closed his eyes and tightly pressed Xiao Wangye’s head to his chest, caressing him and comforting him.
Xiao Wangye’s body went stiff. Since the death of Father-Emperor, he hadn’t had such an embrace for a long time. In such a big capital, he actually couldn’t find someone to trust. Nowadays, his life was difficult, and Yan-daren was his only support.
Xiao Wangye rested against Yan-daren’s chest. All the tears he had held back for a long time finally came out unbridled with all the fear and anxiety, wetting a bit of Yan-daren’s lapels.
Yan-daren rubbed his chin on the top of Xiao Wangye’s head, his palm patting him on the back. His chest vibrated slightly as he said, “Don’t be afraid, Wangye. I am here.”
That gentle and steady voice went straight into Xiao Wangye’s heart, suddenly putting him at ease.
Xiao Wangye wiped his tears, and raised his head from Yan-daren’s chest. With tears on his face, he asked, “Yan-gege, can you call me Xiao Jiu in the future?”
The words were uttered lightly and softly, like a feather scraping across Yan-daren’s heart. Yan-daren’s eyes moved slightly, and the ache in his heart was even greater.
He opened his mouth and said softly, “Alright, Xiao Jiu.”