Friday, August 30, 2013

Ji Jiang IV

The city of Linzi bustled with activity. Reed pipes blasted and harps struck songs, and lutes resounded brilliantly. Cockfights, hunting hounds, liubo, cuju[1]... there was every kind of entertainment. The black-robed man watched it all through the thin curtain of yellow gauze as the carriage procession made its way through the crowds, melancholy creeping into his gaze.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ji Jiang II

In April, a visitor arrived at the palace. His face was thin and his clothes were black from head to toe, and he exuded an air of cool detachment.

He called himself “the Guest of Canghai.”

The King of Qi treated his chilly guest with the utmost courtesy, ushering him into the inner palace to speak. But the black-robed man seemed to treat the King of Qi exceedingly discourteously-- no, with astonishing contempt.

Once he’d sat down, his first words were: “Very good, it seems my master didn’t misjudge you. In less than three years, you’ve already achieved considerable progress.”

Ji Jiang, attending them from the corner of the room, gaped. How dared this person talk like that to His Highness?

But the King of Qi didn’t seem to object. “All granted by your exalted master, of course. I’ll have to express my gratitude in deeds. Did you bring the diagram?”

Ji Jiang grew more and more astonished as she listened.

The black-robed man said: “Here it is.” He took out a rolled-up picture of some sort and laid it on the table, followed by a smaller scroll. “The plan has changed somewhat. First help me find these items.”

The King of Qi took the scroll and unrolled it. “What do you need these things for? They aren’t used in construction.”

The black-robed man said: “There’s been a mishap. My master has lost a certain important item and needs these raw materials to recreate it. The materials are considerable in variety and require high purity of composition, and collecting them could prove bothersome. But you’re the ruler of a nation now, after all. It shouldn’t be too difficult.”

The King of Qi thought for a while, then said: “I’ll need time.”

The black-robed man said: “Will two years suffice?”

The King of Qi nodded. “That’ll work.”

The black-robed man said: “My master won’t make you toil for nothing. When his greater plans succeed, he’ll grant you additional recompense.”

The King of Qi said: “That won’t be necessary. He’s given me enough already.”

The black-robed man said: “Then you can begin work, yes?”

The King of Qi said: “I have an additional request.”

“What request?” asked the black-robed man.

The King of Qi said: “Tell me why!”

“What do you mean?”

The King of Qi pointed at the rolled-up diagram on the desk. “The reason for this construction project.”

“I’ve told you before: mere mortals cannot conjecture as to the workings of the divine!” the Guest of Canghai said darkly. “You only need to do as you’re told.”

“But I must know!” the King of Qi insisted.

The black-robed man’s gaze turned harsh. “So you can renege on your deal?”

The King of Qi said: “No, I only want to know why. It’s for the sake of the project.”

The black-robed man asked “What do you mean?”

The King of Qi said: “I can’t undertake such a massive construction project without some sort of justification for my people.”

The black-robed man said: “With your current power and reputation, you don’t need to justify anything to anyone.”

“Perhaps,” said the King of Qi, “but you forgot something.”

The black-robed man said: “What?”

The King of Qi said: “Even the most powerful king eventually grows old.”

The black-robed man stilled.

“This project will take a long time,” the King of Qi continued. “I can control the present, but I can’t make any guarantees for the future. Tell me why! That way, I can come up with a longer-term plan to ensure the work is continued.”

The black-robed man shook his head. “I apologize. It’s not that I’m unwilling to tell you, but that I myself don’t know. My master never told me.”

The King of Qi said: “Very well, then. Tell your master: I want to see him.”

The black-robed man’s whole body stiffened. “What... what did you say?”

The King of Qi said: “I want to see your master and ask him in person. Maybe he’ll tell me why.”

The black-robed man wore a strange expression, as if he’d seen something incomprehensible. “Are... are you sure? Do you truly wish to see my master?”

“Yes,” said the King of Qi. “Please relay to him: no matter how deep or difficult his motives, I believe I’ll be able to understand it. I would like him to try.”

The black-robed man examined the King of Qi for a long while, then nodded. “I can repeat your request to my master, but I can’t promise anything. I’ll bring you his response next month.” He stood and began to walk away.”

“Wait,” the King of Qi said. “There’s something else I want to ask.”

The black-robed man turned his head. His cold face showed a trace of anger. “If this is about the construction again, I hope you won’t--”

The King of Qi said: “No, it has nothing to do with the construction. I wanted to ask some things about you yourself. Only out of curiosity, mind you. It’s fine if you choose not to answer.”

“About me?” The black-robed man seemed taken aback. “What do you want to know?”

The King of Qi said: “I remember you said that you, too, were only an ordinary person.”

The black-robed man said: “That’s correct.”

The King of Qi asked: “Then how did you come to follow your master?”

The black-robed man’s gaze suddenly grew melancholic. It was a long time before he said: “He was an associate of my great-grandfather’s. I admired him, and so chose to pursue him.” The black-robed man’s few short sentences inexplicably seemed to hold a sense of bygone time, of loss and change.

The King of Qi was taken aback at his tone of voice.

The black-robed man looked at him and sighed softly. He said: “I will leave now. Young man, your talent far exceeds the ordinary, and your future holds endless potential. Be careful. Don’t forget what I said: you cannot renege on a deal with a god. Otherwise, what he allows you to gain, he can also take away.” He turned and left.

Ji Jiang looked at the black-robed man’s retreating back, then at the King of Qi, still seated, deep in thought. She felt as if she’d just woken from a dream.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ji Jiang I

Ji Jiang lay on her bed, gazing ceilingward. Remembering the conversation from earlier that day, she couldn’t help but grin.

Interesting, you’re lecturing me now. All those other people barely dare breathe in my presence. How come you’re not afraid of me?

Yes, why wasn’t she afraid? She only knew that she wasn’t.

The new king was handsome, upright, possessed a formidable air that made one reluctant to impose upon him-- much as she had imagined. She’d longed to see him in life since much earlier. None could defeat him, and his name resounded across the land. How could anyone not admire him! Why should she fear him?

Her heart warm and her face still smiling, she slowly closed her eyes.

Luo! Luo! Luo!

Strange, there’d never been pheasants in the royal palace. What was going on? She wanted to get up and investigate, but sleep had already snuck up on her, leaving her unwilling to move. Never mind, who cares! she thought. Many people had left the palace earlier, during the battles. Maybe a few pheasants took the opportunity to creep in.

Sleep! she told herself. She needed to get up early tomorrow to fix his hair.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Han Xin VI

The King of Han was about to name his Commander-in-Chief!

The news spread like wind through the soldiers of the three armies.

Who was it going to be? Fan Kuai? Cao Can? Xiahou Ying... the flurry of rumors settled on no single candidate.

Someone went and asked Chancellor Xiao He, who only smiled and made no answer.

So the speculations raged on. In the end, most concluded that it was most likely Fan Kuai.

First, he’d saved the king at the Feast at Hong Gate. Second, he had a closer relationship with the King of Han than any of the other generals-- his wife was the queen’s younger sister.

After three days of fasting, the King of Han made his prayers at the royal shrine. When he finished, he proceeded to the general’s altar and began the ceremony.

“I summon--” the rites official called out, and the crowds anticipated his next words with bated breath. “-- Quartermaster Han Xin to the stage!”