Book I The spring day’s apricot flowers scatter above, who is the youth who walks elegant and quick?
Chapter 41 High-five makes the promise
If it’s yes, it’s yes. If it’s no, then it’s no.
Although Chu Yu was firm on the surface, deep down she wasn’t so certain. She knew she was taking a risk. Although she had clear ideas in her mind, Huan Yuan might not take her up on her offer. Even if he did, he might not completely follow their promise.
Things like these that depended completely on mutual trust would fall apart completely if the wrong person was picked for the task.
But under the current circumstances Chu Yu had no other option. With all that had been said, there still weren’t enough people in her network, and even fewer that she could recognize or say she was even somewhat close with.
Although Liu Sang was young and pliable, he had no defense against others. He called Rong Zhi big brother with such warmth that even if Rong Zhi sold him out, he might still count pennies for his cause.
The princes with an Oscar in acting were even less trustworthy. She had a feeling they were all going for the “pretty boy” look and were lacking in actual skill. Either way, she wasn’t sure enough about them to make up her mind on anything.
When it came to Hua Cuo, judging from what she had seen just now, he was obviously on the same side as Rong Zhi. He was clearly out as a candidate.
And so only Huan Yuan was left.
He was talented, thorough, strong yet subtle. Aside from his unwillingness to open up about his own identity and past, there wasn’t much else wrong with him. More importantly, Chu Yu saved his life just yesterday by risking her own. Although she had done it out of instinct rather than anything else, it was something she could use now to move him. Her promise to give him a new identity was the other piece of the puzzle–a piece of bait.
With all that said and done, Chu Yu thought that she had done all she could. As for how effective it might be, and what might arise from that, she couldn’t say.
Going to the end of what was humanly possible without following heaven’s will. It was that, nothing more.
After hearing Chu Yu’s stipulations, Huan Yuan stared at her in disbelief. He wanted to believe but couldn’t help but doubt her, putting down his own joy before it could even fully form in his mind. For a moment, he didn’t know how to answer.
Huan Yuan’s expression remained wooden. Seeing that he had no reaction, Chu Yu stood up and smiled at him. “I’m waiting for your response. Take your time and think about it. I don’t want an answer right away.”
When she stood up, she was facing away from the light. Although her face was buried in shadows, her eyes remained bright and clear. Within them was the light of calm determination.
That was how she had looked yesterday as well.
As if something had exploded suddenly within his head, Huan Yuan’s mind went blank. Without thinking, he spoke. “All right.” After speaking the words, he was slightly regretful. He wanted to take them back but found it was too late.
Chu Yu’s heart surged with joy. She extended her hand quickly to Huan Yuan. “A deal is a deal. Let’s high-five* and make it a promise.”
As she moved, her sleeves rolled back ever slightly, revealing her slender wrists. Huan Yuan looked at them. This was the hand that had grabbed him in his moment of danger without letting go.
Just when Chu Yu was beginning to get impatient, he slowly raised his hand and pressed it to hers. Their hands slowly came together.
Chu Yu thought she was taking a risk. But wasn’t he doing exactly the same?
But all that doubt and distress was pushed away with the slow, gentle strength exerted through each of their hands.
A deal is a deal. High-five to make it a promise.
Walking out of Xiu Yuan House, Chu Yu’s heart had finally dropped from her throat. She went back to Mu Xue Quarters.
Because of her orders, everyone gathered around had scattered. The bamboo forest once again seemed quiet, elegant. When she approached the door, Chu Yu spotted a servant girl with a tray in her hands, slowly walking closer.
She stopped the girl in her steps. “What is this?”
The girl wanted to kneel, but was stopped by Chu Yu. She stole a few looks at Chu Yu from the corner of her eye, ensuring that there was nothing off about her expression, before saying in a low voice, “This is the medicinal porridge prepared for Sir Rong.”
In the middle of the tray was a ceramic lidded cup. Taking off the lid, Chu Yu saw that it was indeed thick porridge. But the color of porridge wasn’t white like normal rice, but was brown with some pieces of meat and something unfamiliar ground into white powder.
When she removed the lid, the scent of the medicine spread out. Although it smelled medicinal, it wasn’t revolting. The scent of rice and meat mixed together in a wondrous way, opening the appetite.
Chu Yu put the lid back on and extended her hands, taking the tray. “You go back. I’ll deliver this.”
Seeming surprised that Chu Yu would do this, the servant girl made a face like she had seen a ghost and couldn’t stop her from taking the tray away. After a while, Chu Yu saw her bow with an odd look on her face and start walking like she was sleepwalking. She walked the way she had come, almost seeming to float back, while murmuring as if half-asleep, “I must still be dreaming.”
Walking with Yue Jiefei, who had a shocked look on his face the whole way, Chu Yu recalled the misfortunes of the man who had gone into the bamboo forest before. With a smile, she stepped back, gesturing Yue Jiefei to walk before her. He should be enough to ensure that even if Hua Cuo attacked them she would have someone to protect her.
This is when the two of them heard some sounds coming inside of the quarters. Chu Yu shook her head hurriedly, telling Yue Jiefei to slow down for a second.
The voice was Rong Zhi’s. It was drawn out and somewhat weak, but more like a lazy helplessness. “Cuo, you can’t just guard here forever and keep people out. Are you going to keep me out for the rest of my life?”
Then a hoarse voice spoke. “Say no more. If it wasn’t for my wounds holding me back, I would have pierced that person who hurt you through and through with a thousand blows.” There wasn’t much need for differentiation. This must be Hua Cuo.
Chu Yu heard a slight snort from beside her and felt an uneasy premonition. But it was too late. Yue Jiefei stepped up and said with a cold voice, “It was me who hurt him. If the Princess hadn’t stopped me, I would have been even more heavy-handed and killed him.”
After that Chu Yu heard Hua Cuo’s taunting voice. “I thought it was someone more impressive. It’s a sore loser coming back. How embarrassing that you’re unable to face off with me properly, yet you harm Zhi, who has no such capability. I’d say that your kind are becoming more and more successful. I thought you were with the Princess all hours of the day? Where is she?” His voice was hoarse and low, but his words were bitter and biting. Although his voice wasn’t loud, it seemed to pierce like a needle into the most painful parts of the body.
Yue Jiefei’s rash move exposed them. Knowing that they could no longer listen to the conversation, Chu Yu sighed and stepped into the door.
Walking a few steps into the forest, without even looking at Yue Jiefei and the red silhouette he faced, Chu Yu’s eyes landed on Rong Zhi, lying on a green stone table.
*The word for high-five in Chinese is literally “hitting palms”, which sounds less out of place in historical context. Chu Yu likely understood it in a modern context, while Huan Yuan understood the words literally.