Part of a Memories of a Graceful Reflection translation project at fruitydeer.com.
Do not download, copy, or redistribute without permission.
Source: 猶記驚鴻照影 by Feng Ning Xue Wu // Translated By: Xin (fruitydeer)
This chapter delves a little deeper into Murong Qing’s relationship with one of my favorite characters in Memories, her younger brother, Murong Lian. When times are tough, our boy will always have his sister’s back.
Chapter 002: The Second Time
A bright moon, a gentle breeze.
Lian and I sat side by side in the woods, watching the horse trot around in contentment off to the side.
He opened a wine jar and took a swig before passing it to me, chuckling: “Uncle Ouyang didn’t lie to me, it really is yu po wine.1 I remember you once said that when you were missing and separated from us in Qi Yue (齊越), what you loved the most was the clear taste and cool fragrance of this wine, so I specifically asked someone to seek it out.”
I received it, then took a shallow sip from the jar. According to custom, the bride was not allowed to leave the boudoir the day before the grand wedding. Nor was she able to meet any male—not even her father, brothers, or any other relatives. With this thought, I couldn’t help but smile: “If Mother knew that I was here messing around with you, I’ll be to blame.
His face was full of disregard: “If you were as much a stickler for the rules as other people, why would I have even brought you here.”
I looked at him, my youngest brother. The moonlight revealed an elegantly handsome, forthright young man. Who knows how many young women’s sanity will be lost to his faint smile in a few years. However, his bone-deep unruliness has always been a source of headache for Father and Mother.
Lian had been unusually clever since he was young. Father originally wanted him to enter court and become an official, but he simply hated the convoluted “you hoodwink me and I cheat you” style of the officialdom. He spent his days going in and out of the Yu Lin Guard2 and earned the fondness of General Ouyang Ting Zhao.
In regards to how much he knowledge he gained about military strategy, tactics, and the art of marching into battle, I did not know. But his height and healthy vigor as well as frankness and honest personality, traits that the other brothers did not possess, were undoubtedly what set him apart.
I was not sure if that was why, when I was found by Father and Mother and brought back to the fu two years ago, even when I forgot the affairs of the past and felt, more or less, some distance from my parents and siblings, I was still able to become close with this younger brother.
“Second [Older] Sister, will Mister Su come tomorrow?” Lian asked, interrupting my thoughts.
I lifted my eyes, my right hand unconsciously stroking my left arm. Underneath the thin silk, the phoenix bathes in flames and beat its wings, yearning to take flight.
Once, someone used refined cinnabar to trace these words for me. With each brushstroke, his words remained warm while his smile gentle.
Refined cinnabar is prized for being bright and long-lasting, so it is extremely difficult to seek out. The me of that time could not see because I hadn’t fully recovered from the injuries of falling from the cliff. I only knew that he was helping me cover the scars that could not go away.
What did you paint? I asked.
He spoke warmly and with a gentle laugh. The phoenix gathers fragrant wood, resurrecting from within the raging fire. Qing’er, from now on, your new life begins.
He took me adventuring across the world’s famous rivers and creeks, teaching me celestial navigation and medicinal principles. Under the blooms of the begonia tree, the skies filled with golden needles that flew and danced like raining blossoms.
He created a set of cherry blossom needles3 for me. Little by little, he pointed each one out. Because my body suffered great injuries from the fall, in spite of several treatments, I would never again be suitable for studying martial arts. But he said that in this world, the only person whom one could truly rely on was themselves. So he taught me the skills to protect myself.
The past was like a mist, and Lian’s voice broke through my deep memories at a fitting time. Seeing his brows raised perplexedly, I smiled faintly, collecting my thoughts that were ill-suited for the occasion, replying faintly: “No.”
From Lian’s countenance came a minute expression of both wishful thinking and w: “Such a shame, I wanted to meet this legend, the Han Yu4 Gong-zi,5 Su Xiu Mian, myself. Had I known that it was Mister Su who had saved you, I would have gone with them to personally fetch you.”
My lashes lowed imperceptibly, concealing the emotions in my eyes. Before I could say anything, Lian was already chuckling with ease: “There will always be an opportunity. One day, I’ll be known throughout the world and will be able to test my swordsmanship with him.”
His expression showed an indescribable sense of heroic handsomeness. A youthful energy, chasing the wind with a sword.
I smiled slightly and stood up, retrieving the qin zheng from the horse’s back. With gentle strums and languid plucks, notes poured out one by one.
Lian’s sword-like brows lifted, and he laughed brightly: “Second Sister, it’s still you who understands me the most.”
As he spoke, a long sword unsheathed, flashing a bright light. His lively gestures and graceful dancing were as as dazzling as a gliding dragon.
“In the Nine Heavens, intentions come too late. A seven-stringed paulownia, delivered by hand; the brandished sword reaches, high as the heavens. The Four Seas are peaceful, the Six Realms unified. A lonely, intoxicated smile on the battlefield; a cup of wine, poured in offering to the vast skies…”6 7
The sounds of the zheng accelerated with fervor, pushing forth the sword’s momentum. The longsword was like a rainbow, accumulating energy then releasing light.8 After the last flourish settled, I then strummed “The General’s Command” to the best of my abilities. The sword dance and zheng blended seamlessly together.
I lifted my gaze and met his eyes with a smile.
Once the sword dance ended, Lian was dripping with sweat. But his expression couldn’t hide his high spirits. He charismatically wiped a sleeve across his forehead, laughing: “It’s been so long since I’ve felt this carefree. Second Sister, if you leave, who do I look for to accompany me for zheng and sword dance?”
Before he finished, his smile had dimmed, presumably recalling that I will be marrying into the wang fu tomorrow. His expression became somewhat withdrawn.
I did not speak. I did not wish to give empty promises like, “if there’s a chance in the future…”9 Instead, I simply smiled and watched as he walked to the grass next to me and lied down. His hands supported the back of his head as he stared deeply into the skies.
“Why should you have to answer to Third [Older] Sister’s betrothal? The wang fu is not suitable for you.” After some time had passed, his voice traveled over from the side, sounding as gentle as water.
I smiled faintly: “This betrothal to the Imperial Household had always been an imperial decree. There’s no news from Yan’er, so I can’t simply sit by and watch as calamity befalls the entire household.”
A look of derision flashed through his eyes: “Since you can’t even remember the past, why should you offer your life for what could be regarded as a family of strangers? Even Third Sister understands to fight for herself.”
“You speak as if you’re not a member of this household,” I chuckled, reaching out and patting his face. I no longer wanted to continue on with this topic.
He looked at me for a long while, then turned his head to the side. Once again facing the starry sky, he said: “Sorry, Second Sister.”
Stunned, I turned my gaze toward him, but he didn’t look at me. All that sounded was his voice, which carried notes of helplessness and self-deprecation: “I can’t help you live the life you want.”
My heart softened and I laughed softly: “How do you know this isn’t the life I want to live?”
“Your temperament is calm and easygoing, it’s not something ordinary boudoir girls can compare to. Marrying into the wang fu might be glorious in the eyes of outsiders, but to me, you’ve simply been wronged. And the Third Highness,” he opened his mouth, wavering with a pause. A moment later, he continued speaking with a small sigh, “may not be willing to spend the effort to understand your virtues.”
I chuckled and said nothing. In the end, in order to let everyone maintain face, he was still not willing to speak with words that were too ugly.
Although it has been less than two years since my return to the capital, and though I still have yet to meet this Third Highness, news of his grace and scholarly pursuits have never ceased to fall upon my ears.
Seeing that I made no sounds, Lian turned his head and looked at me: “Second Sister, you should be like Mister Su. Living as freely as your heart desires, keeping the mountains, rivers, and stars and as your company. You should not be shackled by the routines of the mundane world. Perhaps, we shouldn’t have gone and looked for you. You would be living so much better.”
I lowered my eyes and smiled, hiding away the shallow grievance within my pupils and unexpectedly recalling how, two years ago, he had personally sent me out of the valley so heartlessly. The ability to stay was not a simple matter of whether or not I wanted to.
His life could not tolerate any tethers, but I had come along unexpectedly, disturbing him for three years. It had already been too long.
When I lifted my head once more, my eyes were sober and calm. I didn’t look at Lian, merely smiling while looking towards the hook-shaped moon: “Since the running water is merciless, why let oneself fall in and suffer foolishly? It would be better to become spring mud. At least I can protect those who care about me and the ones whom I care about.”
Translator’s Note: I just want to keep Murong Lian in my pocket and take him everywhere. Here’s a video of one “The General’s Command” (將軍令 // Jiang Jun Ling), of the songs Murong Qing plays.
This below scene from Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms is the atmosphere I envisioned when reading the zheng and sword dance scene between Murong Qing and Murong Lian. It starts at 26:25.
- 域魄 // Yu Po: I’m not really sure what this means, but presumably it’s just a name of a wine.
- 羽林軍 // Yu Lin Jun: Imperial guard of the emperor.
- Concealed weaponry type of needles.
- 寒玉 // Han Yu: Cold Jade
- 公子 // Gong Zi: Usually used to address young gentlemen. Speaking more strictly, it’s actually a form of address for noblemen’s sons.
- One of the verses, 「手寄七絃桐」 refers to a qi xian qing, type of seven-stringed lyre made of paulownia. That verse seems to quote the work of a writer, Ji Kang, who used this line in a poem written as farewell to his brother who enlisted in the army.
- Please excuse the terrible translation…In short, this verse of poetry is supposed to speak of longing and regret, ending with a farewell. The wine is a sacred ritual offering for the dead.
- I tweaked the original analogy here a little to make more sense. The original phrase just said “gathering energy like a rainbow.” TBH I only have a vague understanding about the science of rainbows…
- Once women marry and leave their natal home, it’s considered a rare blessing to be able to visit their family.