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)
Surprise update? Since it’s been a hot minute since the last one, I suggest going back a few chapters if you have no idea what’s happening anymore.
Warning: This chapter contains some suggestive content and non-consensual behavior.
Chapter 26: The Twenty-Sixth Time
My expression shifted, my tone lowering as I said: “Your Highness, such a joke is not funny at all.”
He laughed unperturbedly, saying: “Wang fei also said as such. It’s merely a joke.”
Nevertheless, an inexplicable sense of agitation began to grow in my heart. Discretely taking a few breaths, I slowly adjusted my emotions.
Perhaps he truly was just joking. But if such a day really came and this prophecy came to fruition, what should I do?
While I pondered, Shu Ying had already rushed in merrily with ‘jing-tao‘ in her arms. I was not sure if it was her running or excitement that had caused her face to become rosy and flushed.
Seeing her look of anticipation, I ultimately could not bear to disappoint her, so I sat before the qin, silently recited the song from my memory, then pressed the tips of my fingers against the strings.
All said and done, I had already played it once before. A song as beautiful as this was capable of ingraining itself into one’s memories. So this time, I played even more fluidly. As if my fingers had developed their own consciousness, they flew across the strings. Each and every note was akin to moving clouds and flowing water,1 lasting for a long while.
When the song reached its conclusion, Shu Ying’s expression was dazed while Nan Cheng Yao looked quietly at me, his eyes dark and immeasurably deep.
After some time, he said: “How long did Wang fei practice this song for?”
I gently shook my head: “The night of the Mid-Autumn banquet was Qing’er’s first time hearing it.”
He did not speak and only stared straight at me. Shu Ying must have thought that he did not believe it, so she spoke up in a haste: “I have never heard Young Miss play this song before. Besides, Young Miss doesn’t normally use the yao-qin, how could she have practiced it?”
He paid no attention to Shu Ying and only continued to stare deeply at me, the meaning in his eyes unclear: “Wang fei‘s talents are beyond that of others. With such a divine melody, why not add some song? Vocals combined with the sound of this qin would complement each other well.”
I stilled, but Shu Ying already began speaking with regret: “Young Miss once had to have her injuries treated with the blossoms and leaves of sacred lily for some time, so her voice was damaged. She refuses to sing anymore.”
From her words, my thoughts returned to the time in which I fell off the precipice. At the time, my body suffered great injuries, so Su Xiu Mian had no choice but to administer extreme doses of medication. Though my life was saved, my voice was no longer as clear and melodious as before.
He once told me that although my speech was no longer clear and bright, it was instead softer and more charming than ever before.
At the time, I knew very clearly that he was just comforting me, but I could not stop the sweetness from manifesting in the depths of my heart. All because of one person, once sentence.
I had no desire to entangle myself in the past anymore, so I said: “Alright, Shu Ying, hurry and take the qin back to the qin room. It’s getting late, so you’ve no need to come back after. I happen to have some things that I need to discuss with His Highness.”
Shu Ying replied in acknowledgement and took the qin with her as she left. I turned around and opened the medicine box: “Your Highness, Qing’er will help change your dressing.”
He said nothing. Though he nodded slightly, he did not move at all.
I looked at the sky outside the windows. It was already late. Thinking about how he still had to return to Qing Tian House after his dressing was changed, I thus could only step forward and personally help him remove his outer robe.
The task was normally performed by Xun Yun and Zhu Yu. This was my first time doing it. Even though I did not look up, I could still feel how his gaze never once left me. Inevitably, some awkwardness arose and my cheeks began to burn.
His wound was, for the most part, healed, so I did not rewrap the bandage. Once the medication was applied, I said softly: “Once the medicine absorbs this time, Your Highness will be fully recovered. There’s no need for a bandage. Letting it breathe would be much better.”
When I looked upwards, I met directly with his line of sight. My heart trembled unwittingly.
With some unnaturalness, I said: “The hour is late, Your Highness ought to rest.”
He cracked a smile and suddenly reached out. Caught off guard in that moment, I found myself getting pulled into his embrace.
Though I struggled subconsciously, he did not let go. The grin lingering in his breath pressed against my ear: “Wang fei already cannot wait?”
I was so incredibly distressed. His words were spoken as lackadaisical as usual, but when I looked up at him, a dark flicker of light and shadow flashed across his eyes. My heart fell into an inexplicable frenzy, and I couldn’t help but panic even more as I tried to stand.
At first, he smiled and relaxed his grip. My heart followed in suit and relaxed, but no more than a few seconds later, it tensed all the way back again.
His gaze was heavy, landing across my neck and shoulder. That moment of panic just now caused my clothes to slacken and fall into disarray. I followed his line of sight and found that the phoenix on my left arm had become faintly exposed.
I saw in his eyes that the flash of light and shadow that had been forcibly suppressed by his own will emerged once more. It was deep and profound, seemingly capable of stealing souls away. A sort of anxiousness I had never felt before grew in my heart. My entire person became rigid and I no longer dared to move.
His gaze was complicated and moody, as if it were the most turbulent tide of a dark night, lingering against my arm for the longest time. Finally, he slowly reached out and stroked my arm where that phoenix beat its wings, yearning to take flight.
Though I had never experienced such desires, I was not an ignorant young girl. Before leaving the boudoir, Mother vaguely mentioned such things to me once. I had a faint understanding of what was yet to come.
I suddenly stiffened, instinctively wanting to resist. But just as I made to move, I was latched firmly by him. A deep kiss came down.
In a split second, my mind went blank.
The resistance in my heart gradually lost its strength. But I could not stop the faint sorrow that surged forth.
Why was it that even now, I still could not let go of the past? The person before my eyes was my husband, the one whom I would accompany for life. Everything that was happening was merely a canal forming where water flows.2 It was inevitable; I knew this from the very beginning. But why could I still not let go?
I could not stop trembling. When he untied my dress and when he embraced me with force, my eyes were tightly shut, my body bereft of strength. I was exceptionally uncomfortable, though I was not sure if it was with my body or because of my heart. I could only allow him to control my body. As if floating in the clouds, or burning within a fire.
When the sharp pain arrived between my legs, the space between my brows furrowed uncontrollably. My lips pursed tightly so as to keep myself from crying out in pain, but in the end, the tear gathered at the corner of my eye could not help but fall.
Nan Cheng Yao must have sensed my abnormality and thus restrained himself, stilling all movement. Though my eyes were shut tight, I could still sense his heavy gaze.
I knew that he was forcibly holding himself back. His body was tense as large droplets of sweat dripped against my chest.
Time passed by the minutes and seconds. At last, his kiss fell softly against my lashes. Gentle, tender, and lingering.
His voice rang beside my ear. Like the softest sigh, it seemed so unreal.
He called out to me: “Qing’er…”
In a spell, reality and dream blended together, overlapping into one.
I recalled how five years ago as I lingered just beyond the gates of the Netherworld, it was this call that made me open my eyes. That past was like a dream, the affection fervent. And once upon a time, I thought this was my everything.
It was because of this call that I became so attached to someone. Now, it was likewise this call that thoroughly awakened me.
I would never be able to return to the past.
Or perhaps, the past had long since been out of reach.
My body was in both pain and pleasure. Such a foreign sensation left me completely powerless. Amidst this confusion and dizziness, I had no choice but to clutch onto Nan Cheng Yao’s slender, strong arms; letting him guide me as the flower of desire flourished recklessly in the night; letting him guide me as I separated myself from the past and those days spent with the mountains, rivers, and stars as my company.
From this moment forward, there was only the Nan Dynasty’s Third Wang fei, Murong Qing.
Translator’s Note: An unexpected moment of metamorphosis for Murong Qing. I really, really love how Feng Ning Xue Wu depicted the several paragraphs. I’ve read some comments from Chinese readership about how Feng Ning Xue Wu’s problem as a writer is that her vocabulary seems rather limited. I don’t exactly disagree, but it’s moments like these where her use of repetition through word choice really shines and adds a certain poeticism to her language.