ALTG Chapter 5

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Chapter 5: This Affection is Immaculate

It was funny how time slipped away as it unknowingly turned to March. The accumulated snow began to melt, and the roofs were no longer heavy. The ground turned to marsh, the roofs dripped water, and the sunlight slowly began to turn golden with warmth.

Crash! Clang!

What trouble had Shan Xi gotten into now? This girl had started packing her luggage ever since she knew she was going to the imperial court with Lotus. She either broke something or forgot something everyday, and many family members came complaining to Lotus. The entire Cao family manor had been upended by Shan Xi, to the point where even chickens and dogs had no peace. Lotus knew that Shan Xi was anxious and nervous about the long trip — how was she not herself? So she always glossed over the matter lightly to those who brought grievances to her, and didn’t punish Shan Xi. After a while, no one paid Shan Xi any attention.

Lotus was copying scripture with Madame Cao inside at the moment, and when the two heard the sounds, they shook their heads and didn’t pay attention, continuing to copy. After a while, Cao Zhong came hurriedly rushing in, calling out, “Madame, Madame!” with a stricken face.

Madame Cao halted her brush, a frown creasing her brow. “What are you so upset about?”

“Fight – fighting.” Cao Zhong was a bit out of breath.

“Fighting over what? Who’s fighting?” Madame Cao asked patiently.

Cao Zhong pointed to the front yard, “His Highness and Hai Shou are having a martial demonstration and have started fighting! They even cut the tree!”

Lotus immediately dashed out of the room when she heard these words, calling back, “Mother, I’ll take a look.” Her steps fleeting like the wind, she came into the front yard.

She saw Lee Fangyuan and Hai Shou rolling and tumbling around the yard, in the throes of a good fight.

Lee Fangyuan was using the blade while Han Shou was using the soft whip. Light from the blade flashed and danced, while numerous sounds of the whip cracking rang out in a disorderly fashion. One didn’t know if the blade was seeking to cut down the whip, or if the whip wanted to steal the blade. Lee Fangyuan’s blade menaced with every step, not leaving the slightest path for retreat. Hai Shou’s long whip danced in circles, forming a protective inner ring, while the outer ring moved in the cracks between the blade’s light and looked for an opportunity to attack.

Lotus became more and more frightened as she watched. How was this a martial demonstration? This was fighting with their lives! She hastily yelled down, “Stop! Don’t fight!” She saw the soft whip slacken as Hai Shou listened to the Princess’ orders and attempted to back out of the ring. However, the light from the blade flashed mercilessly as Lee Fangyuan took advantage of the opportunity to attack, as if he hadn’t heard Lotus. The soft whip jumped up in resignation as Hai Shou protected his vitals. The two began to fight again. Lotus stomped her feet in her anxiety but had no ideas she could think of. Madame Cao had also arrived at this point and stood beside Lotus, both of them watching in great trepidation.

They saw the whip suddenly change direction as countless numbers of circles attacked towards Lee Fangyuan. Lee Fangyuan paid them no heed as he leapt up and raised his sword high, a move that made as if to split a mountain in half, chopping down towards Hai Shou. Lotus screamed out, “No!” But both of them forgot that Lee Fangyuan was wearing a brocade robe. He was likely used to not even pinning the corner of his robes up. The leap gave Hai Shou a clear opening, as the latter ignored the sword slash, and flicked his whip instead, curling around the robe of Lee Fangyuan in midair. Hai Shou knew that the sword was descending upon him, but still gave a mighty tug of his whip and tore off a corner of the brocade robe. Lee Fangyuan hesitated slightly in mid air as his blade paused for a moment. Hai Shou took advantage of this split second break in concentration to hastily jump out of the ring. He put away the soft whip and dashed to kneel down in front of Madame Cao.

Madame Cao saw the long sword injury on his arm that was still seeping out fresh blood, and felt extremely irate. She hectored loudly, “How dare you! Do you know that if you harmed His Highness, your family clan would be executed?”

“I forced him to.” Lee Fangyuan walked over from afar and said coldly.

“Royal brother! What are you doing?!” Lotus couldn’t hold it in and admonished him a bit.

“I wanted to try his training and see if he could escort you. He wasn’t willing to fight when I chopped a tree, so I had to chop him instead.” Lee Fangyuan was still very frosty.

Lotus didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She looked at Hai Shou’s arm and said to him, “You’re dismissed! Hurry and treat your wound.” Hai Shou stood up but walked to Lee Fangyuan, genuflecting, “Hai Shou will protect the princess even at the cost of his life!” He didn’t wait for Lee Fangyuan to respond before rising and leaving. Madame Cao sighed and also turned to return to the inner court.

Lee Fangyuan’s robe was missing a large chunk, and it was now shorter in the front. The boots he was wearing were revealed, and he looked a bit comical. Lotus took a glance, tightened her lips to hold in her laughter, and looked away. Lee Fangyuan said with a bit of ill temper, “Laugh if you want! It’s not like you haven’t made fun of me before.” Lotus couldn’t bear it and laughed out loud, her jade cheeks suffused with color as her ruby red lips upturned, like a fresh flower blossoming. Lee Fangyuan was mesmerized and said lowly, “As long as you can smile like this, I would be content to be a clown everyday.”

Lotus’s face blushed red as she turned her head. The snow in the courtyard had already started melting, with the flowers and grass starting to poke through. Lotus asked softly, “Did you talk back to our royal father yesterday during court?”

Lee Fangyuan didn’t respond.

“Royal father is also thinking of you. Your temper is too great.” Lotus persuaded slightly.

Lee Fangyuan grit his teeth, “I hate him!” He looked at Lotus, “Protecting the lands is our duty, how can a girl like you be sacrificed? On top of that,he knows that I like you, and that I’ve never asked him for anything since young!”

It was the first time that Lotus had heard Lee Fangyuan say “I like you” and she was dumbfounded. Lee Fangyuan also realized that he’d confessed his feelings, but decided not to care about it after being struck dumb for a bit. He continued, “Many people are not in favor of you going to the imperial capital, particularly the majority of the generals. The worst is eldest brother — he’s led a band of stale and pedantic scholars in adhering to father. We’re unable to win in debates.”

Lotus knew that because Lee Fangyuan had participated in battles for many years, he was close to many military generals and had a band of confidantes. Her own brothers had often hung out with them. She hesitated for a bit, and still continued, “I still need to attend to my own business. Don’t blame father. Father is elderly in age, listen to him more.”

“Huh! Would you be able to go if he didn’t agree? Not to mention he aggravated the situation by adopting a princess! I hate him! And eldest brother!”

Lotus still spoke conciliatory words, “Father and the Crown Prince are all doing this for you. It’s best if a family is harmonious and at peace.”

“A family! Then why send you out? Don’t they know how dangerous it is?”

Lee Fangyuan stopped speaking and looked at Lotus, “Don’t worry about this, find some amusing things for yourself. What were you doing just now?”

“Copying scripture. Even Buddha will be worried after the ruckus you’ve kicked up.” Lotus smiled as she spoke, but she worried privately upon seeing the rage yet to fade from Lee Fangyuan’s face.

Indeed, during the summer of the next year, the “First Strife of the Princes1” occurred in Korea, where Lee Fangyuan started a rebellion. Crown Prince Lee Fangshuo was killed in the chaos, and King Taejo was forced to abdicate to Lee Fangguo. However, these are all stories for a later time.

At this moment, Cao Zhong walked over with a long robe, something that Madame Cao had obviously sent him looking for. It was Cao Min’s old clothing. Cao Min and Lee Fangyuan’s body size was similar, and there were many stories of the two wearing each other’s clothing after getting drunk or into a fight. Lotus’ face dimmed after seeing the clothes, and the laughter was gone from her face. Lee Fangyuan waved his hands. Cao Zhong looked at the two of them, and slowly backed away still holding the long robes.

Lee Fangyuan reached into his sleeves and took out a scroll, “This is for you.”

Lotus lowered her head, “I cannot take your items.”

Lee Fangyuan was a bit irate, “You don’t want it when you haven’t even looked at it?”

Lotus’s head trailed and she didn’t respond.

Lee Fangyuan looked at her, stomping his foot after a while, and threw the scroll onto the ground. “Take it if you want!” He strode off with large steps.

As Lotus heard the angry boot steps slowly walk far away, a wave of sadness welled up in her heart and she became lost in thought.

“Princess!” Shan Xi came bouncing in excitedly. “Princess! Has his Highness left? That was so frightening just now! High Highness chopped down that thick branch with just one swing.”

Lotus came to herself, “How is Hai Shou’s injury?”

Shan Xi said merrily, “He refused to see a royal doctor, and only went when I dragged him there. Medicine has been applied, and the royal doctor says everything is alright.”

She then lowered her voice and spoke as if deep in thought, “To think that his martial arts were that good… so he really was letting me win before.” Her voice was full of admiration. “I can’t fight His Highness, if we really got into a fight I probably wouldn’t even be as strong as this tree!”

Lotus also broke out into a smile in the midst of her many worries.

“Eh, what’s this?” Shan Xi picked up the scroll from the ground and gave it to Lotus.

Lotus took it, calmed herself, and then turned to return to the inner court with Shan Xi, continuing to copy the “Diamond Sutra2”. When Madame Cao saw her come in, she stopped her brush, about to speak but said nothing.

Lotus said lightly, “Your daughter understands, please be at ease mother.” She didn’t lift her head after those words, and cleared her mind of stray thoughts, copying down each word, “[TL note: the following is a section from the Diamond Sutra which unfortunately is out of my translation competency. I have attached a link to the full copy of the Diamond Sutra for those inclined to peruse: http://zen-ua.org/wp-content/uploads/the_diamond_sutra_english.pdf {If you know of an English translation of the Diamond Sutra instead of it broken into pieces with explanations, please let me know!}].” She slowly lost herself in the action.

After busying herself for the day, Lotus returned to her chambers and prepared for bed. She took off her outer garment, but a scroll fell out. It was what Lee Fangyuan had brought her today. Lotus hesitated and picked it up. The outside of the scroll was speckled with dirt, with some traces of it still present.

Lotus walked next to a candleholder and opened it. There were about ten or so pages, covered with printing the size of mosquito heads. “Emperor Hongwu has a resolute and decisive personality… “ Lotus was shocked and flipped to the next page, “Royal grandson Yun Wen is benevolent and scholarly minded… “ And another page, “Prince Yan, Zhu Di 3 (personal name: Zhu Gaochi) is the fourth son of the emperor, and has impressive military accomplishments in northern Mongolia….” And the next page, “Prince Dai, Zhu Gui, was enfeoffed with the Da Tong province. Prince Min, Zhu Gen, has a wild nature…” Lotus continued paging through the scroll. It was actually a scroll that introduced the great Ming Dynasty Emperor, royal sons, and assorted civil officials and military generals.

The king had once spoke of the situation in the imperial court to Lotus, but had only mentioned a few key people. Not only did this scroll have their names and positions, but it had also noted all their looks, personality, likes and dislikes, as well as all related connections. Lotus recognized the tiny handwriting as Lee Fangyuan’s. It was one thing to personally make a copy, but how could he have obtained such detailed intelligence thousands of kilometers away? Even the imperial court may not possess such secret information. How much effort had he gone to? Lotus flipped to the last page and found that it was a contact information of a place within the imperial capital. The last words written were, “Destroy this after reading this thoroughly and memorizing it. Take care, and be well!”

Hot tears brimmed in Lotus’ eyes as she stared at these words, losing herself in the moment.

Candlelight flickered in the hazy dusk as it finally burned out, after jumping two last times.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taejong_of_Joseon
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_Sutra
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongle_Emperor


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