Chapter 36: Carefree Idler All reproductions of this work not on volaretranslations are stolen copies.
During the year of Qing, the sovereign passed away. The crown prince ascended to the throne and changed the name of the dynasty to Yao.
Emperor Han took charge over affairs of state and annulled the exorbitant taxies and levies. The country gain prosperity and military might, and he was praised as the brilliant ruler, though he expressed no wish to take in an empress or concubines. The loyal ministers of Emperor Han grew confused and remonstrated with him, but to no avail.
Five years later.
Everything grew peaceful.
There were sayings that because Han Zichuan had ascended the throne, the country was extremely peaceful, and its people able to live and work in contentment. However…within the jianghu, people’s hearts trembled in fear at the mention of a certain qin player. At the same time, they took great delight in dwelling on his deeds over tea and meals.
This person wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary.
In fact, nobody knew whether they were male or female. His face was always hidden by a chiffon cloth mask and he dressed like a man, but spoke like a woman. He was used to wandering about like drifting clouds and wild storks–free and unrestrained–and came and went without a trace.
He only had one hobby, and that was to collect pretty, charming men. Every time he took a fancy to a young master, he’d sit down at the qin, those fingers playing a tune to stir one’s very soul. His heavenly pieces lingered in the air long after a performance like a celestial melody descended to earth. Only after recovering their bearings would the listeners discovered he’d abducted another young lord.
Rumors had it…that when the leader of the martial arts circles vanished last year, the qin player was involved as well. They were three versions of the story.
1) One day, the leader was leisurely rowing a boat on the river and admiring the scenery of the mountains and waters. Just when he was sighing with feeling over his attractiveness, this top, unmatched martial arts expert under the earth…realized that there was no wife in the world who could match him in looks. He couldn’t help but shed silent tears, feeling rather melancholy. No sooner had he thought than the pond waters billowed with the sweet, plaintive notes of a qin from the mountains. A fairy-like beauty came trippingly over the waters and gave him a shock. He fell in love at first sight and decided to spend the rest of his life at her side. Thus, she effortlessly seduced him and from then on, the martial arts circle leader disappeared.
2) One day, when the leader was resting in bed with his eyes closed, he heard the melody of a qin within his quarters. A highly-skilled figure broke through his windows late at night as a thief, and the two had a fierce battle indoors. The leader was no match for the intruder and was made captive by the notes of the qin. Thus, both him and his incomparable martial prowess vanished from the jianghu.
3) Before the leader became the head of the martial arts circles, he was deeply poisoned by a villainous scoundrel. Fortunately, a mysterious female rescued him. This woman became unforgettable in his memories, so much that he constantly thought of her all day and lost his appetite from melancholy yearning. On a certain day, he was severely shocked to see her masked, fairy-like form playing the qin for a handsome gentleman in the streets. Irritated, he shouted out, “Since you’re here, why not come with me?”
Thus, he went to drag over the fairy-like beauty, jealously striking his arm towards the other gentleman. Yet one dodged while the other rose to block, resulting in an unsightly scene of tug-of-war. With no other choice, the masked beauty threw aside her qin and grabbed both men before stalking off.
After that, two figures disappeared from the world. One was the leader of the martial arts circles, the other a general’s son from the previous dynasty who had been branded a lifelong criminal by the imperial court. His looks were handsome, and he had in possession a treasured map and many unique martial arts manuals. Sadly, he was too frail to practice the techniques himself, and couldn’t talk because he was a mute.
As for the qin, which broke in half upon being flung to the ground…
Rumors say it was snatched away by the masses and a single fragment of its strings or wood could be sold for up to ten thousand gold taels.
But these are all rumors…
However, the qin playing expert gained Seven Princes as followers. No one knew what they looked like, because no one could enter their house.
The First (Yi’er) spoke little but had ruthless business methods and was rich in accumulated properties.
Of the Second (Er’er) and Third (San’er), one was immune to hundreds of poisons while the other poisoned everyone on sight, making them two sides of the same jade.
Fourth (Si’er) was proficient in techniques of the Five Elements and naturally talented in the art of face-changing.
Fifth (Wu’er) was reportedly very ugly, but had unfathomable internal energy.
As for Sixth (Liu’er), he was as beautiful as Fifth was ugly, and his lightness technique was incomparable. Unfortunately, he couldn’t speak.
Seventh (Qi’er) was lively, energetic, and possessed a spirited intelligence. He was the only person the qin player had brought from back home and was the obvious favorite. Typically, he was the one who took charge of everything.
As for this qin playing expert, his courtesy name was Zang (葬) and his given name Hua (华). He self-professed to be a carefree idler.
“Hey…has anyone seen my shoes? It’s so early…” I jumped to my feet, feeling about as I searched before collapsing back onto my bed.
“Oh sure, it’s very early,” a youth dressed in gleaming yellow robes gracefully burst inside, smiling irresistibly. For some reason, my whole body felt a chill as he sat down and prepared to tuck me in. “You can almost make it for lunchtime. What made you think of getting up so early today?”
I tugged on the bedcovers, avoiding him as I feigned innocence with a lazy stretch.
“You wasted half the night yesterday at Ugly’s again, right?” So joking, he withdrew his other hand from behind his back, the long fingers waving a pair of shoes before my face. I gave him a mocking smile but involuntarily backed away, afraid to accept them.
He raised his eyebrows, a charming action very much like a certain person. Startled, my smile turned forced.
“Don’t make trouble, Third. Master’s slept for half the day, she must be hungry now that she’s awake.” A 17 to 18 year old young man closed the door as he entered. Rolling up his sleeves, he snatched the shoes from the yellow-robed youth and started to carefully inspect and feel the material, eyebrows knitted. Without a word, the man kneeled down and clasped my feet, as if preparing to put on my shoes for me. I trembled and he raised a face to smile at me. “I’ve checked, he didn’t put poison inside. With Second serving you, you can definitely feel at ease.”
“His tricks were all taught by me, so how could he dare to poison me? Like I’d be afraid of him trying.” I said, stating the plain truth.
Second, the youth in the yellow robes, sighed and glared at me. I shrank back, and he hung his head with a laugh. “Master, you’re afraid of neither Heaven nor Earth…but how come you’ve become so timid since cultivating that art?”
“The《Carefree Recollection》has been cultivated to the seventh level, and my internal energy has almost thoroughly dispersed. Nowadays I’m always forgetting things. I’m afraid by the time I get to the eighth level, I’ll even forget all of you. I need safeguards in case I’m accidentally caught by a trap and forget how to make an antidote.”
“Only you would pick such a harmful practice to the internal energies,” the Poison Prince said heatedly as he swiftly stood up. “If you don’t want to fall into traps, then you shouldn’t have cultivated it.”
“Little Third, Master’s body isn’t well, so don’t clash with her.” Second placed a small heated pot on my knees before pulling the bedcovers over my legs. His voice was very low as he spoke with his head bowed. “It’s not bad like this. At least, it’s better than the endless days you spent ingesting the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows.”
Forgotten sorrows, forget my sorrows…
These words brought up hazy, faded events from the past. A pinkie picking through the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows pills as I downed them with alcohol in my stomach, was a scene of distant days.
My icy fingers warmed considerably next to the heated pot. Holding a headband in his hands, Second tied my hair up in the usual scholar’s topknot (a bun atop the head), held in place by a plain and simple wooden hairstick.
Sunlight streamed from the windows to warm my body, making me comfortably sleepy. I’d obtained the 《Carefree Recollection》by chance, but now it was a necessity. To recollect, free from cares without worrying about the past…
As it turned out, the carefree part came from having no memories of anything from the start.
“The marital techniques manual that Sixth gave to Master is quite strange. Cultivating to the fifth level causes the internal energy to increase each passing day, but after level five, the energy recedes. Yet checking your pulse showed that you haven’t deviated from your cultivation. I don’t know whether this manual of Sixth’s will harm Master’s facilities, so maybe it’s better if you quit.” Second pushed aside his sleeves before handing me a warm towel.
I smiled as I unfolded the cloth and placed it over my face, so comfortable I gave a sigh. “Wouldn’t giving up be a waste of my previous efforts? If I can break through the seventh level and get deep enough into the eighth, I’ll recover both my internal energy and my memories. As long as you keep Little Third from trying anything on me before then, I’ll rest easy.”
“You…” As soon as I heard the exasperated tone, I knew it was the young Poison Prince. He always spoke clumsily when he was angry.
“Keep your distance, don’t touch Master with your poisonous hands.”
Through an opening in the towel, I could see the poisonous so-and-so’s face flushing red with embarrassed rage and hate at his inability to speak properly. The corners of my lips turned up as I regained my confidence and heaved a sigh of relief. Removing the cloth, I carelessly wiped my face before throwing it aside. While the little Poison Prince glowered, I even extended my finger on purpose to raise up Little Second’s face. “Precious darling, only you love me best.”
Little Second gave a furtive grin, very used to me taking liberties.
This child. Even when he smiled, it was laden with grief, as if deliberately provoking my pity.
“Even since Master eliminated Second’s personal enemies, my only thought has been to serve Master well,” he raised his eyes and gave me a soft look filled with affectionate feeling. “Don’t chase me away tonight, all right?”
“That won’t do, won’t do at all…”
My hand trembled and I instantly pulled back, only to see his pupils dim. But he quickly turned and grabbed his head, smiling awkwardly…
I met Second four years ago.
At that time, I never thought of saving him. The moment when he stood alone, wearing a simple robe and surrounded by a sea of fire, seemed very fearless. It was the people of the jianghu who had set the fire to kill him, but he kept smiling as usual. Even now, I can only vaguely describe his expression then. Looking back to that past makes my heart pound, but at the time I only thought him an exceptionally mesmerizing sight.
Before the fires could swallow him up, he used his final moment of clarity to fight back. I knew that if I ignored him then, I might regret it for a lifetime.
Because his mournful smile unexpectedly reminded me of Fang Hua.
Who would’ve known that after my rescue, I discovered he was the foster son of the Pill King? Rumors said before the Pill King died, he soaked his son in all sorts of medicines, making his body immune to hundreds of different poisons. Even his blood became something as precious as gold. If the late emperor’s men had found him earlier and extracted that blood, then their ruler might have recovered seventy to eighty percent without Fang Hua’s help at all.
I lightly stroked Second’s hair. It was comforting, and made my palm itch. Amongst the others, he was the most obedient and the one who relied on me the most.
…only, he relied on me too much. I came back to my senses and sighed.
“Second, last time I told someone to bring me back some precious medicinal ingredients. You haven’t soaked in a medicinal bath for so long, so there’s a cart full of ingredients free for you to use… Half a jin or even three jin is fine, you can bathe to your heart’s content.”
He smiled, and I stroked his face before looking up at the Poison Prince, whose attitude was respectful and solemn. “Don’t wear yellow robes next time, Little Third. Looking at it vexes me.”
The little Poison Prince gave me another glare before swinging his sleeves and barging out of the room. I bore it with a smile as that vulgar yellow again assaulted my eyes. Actually, these robes were probably the most suitable, proper clothes he’d worn in the past few years.
Ever since five years ago, I started treating yellow as a distasteful color…
“Master, was it worth it to tease him? He’s used to being frugal, so it’s rare for him to order robes. This morning he wore it for the first time to stroll back and forth in front of your doors. He was waiting until noon on an empty stomach just so you could see him, but then you made him angry,” Second muttered, “Who knows who he’ll target next as a result? It’ll be up to me to save them again.”
“It’s not that I don’t want him to get more clothes. We’re not short of silver, so there’s no need to save money.” Moreover…wearing yellow from head to toe reminded me of a certain person.
Five years had passed, yet instead of forgetting the things I should, I remembered them clearer than ever.
-o- All reproductions of this work not on volaretranslations are stolen copies.
 year of Qing (庆年) －qingnian, many emperors had different titles for the years of their reigning dynasties. This may be one of them. Qing by itself means “to celebrate, congratulate,” or an “occasion for celebration.”
 Yao (遥) －at the same time, many emperors selected names for their dynasties (which is where we get Qing, Yuan, Ming, Song, etc.). Yao by itself means “distant, remote, far.”
 came and went without a trace (来无影，去无踪) －laiwuying, quwuzong, the exact phrase here literally means “to come without a shadow, leave without a footprint”.
 lightness technique (轻工) －qinggong, first used by Shao’er in chapter 12 to descend the cliffs, a technique that shifts the energy in a person’s body to reduce their weight, thus allowing them to walk on water and air. A skilled practitioner can move lightly and swiftly.
 Seven Princes (七公子) －qigongzi, more interesting is how each of the members’ nicknames are written as character/word/daxie versions of the numbers one through seven (一，二，三，四，五，六，七) as (壹，贰，叁，肆，伍，陆，柒) with an affectionate “er” (儿) at the end, much like Shao’er. In pinyin, these numbers are written as Yi(1), Er(2), San(3), Si(4), Wu(5), Liu(6), Qi(7). For the ease of the readers, I will be using their English equivalents.
 courtesy name (字) －zi, also known as a style name, used by young men among their friends and people outside their family. The courtesy name Zang means “to bury, inter.”
 given name (名) －ming, also know as a personal name (equivalent to an English “first name”). The given name Hua is the same one in Shao Hua. You can read more about the types & classifications of Chinese names here and here.
 Ugly’s (丑儿) －from Chou’er, nickname meaning ugly. Most likely referring to the Fifth of her Seven Princes, known for his unattractive looks.
 heated pot (暖炉) － nuanlu, or an ancient space heater. The closest approximation I could find is this picture.
 jin (斤) －also called a catty, Chinese unit of weight equal to approximately 0.5kg.