Book One, Chapter 42: Red Plum

Xiao Chi’ye scheduled their dinner party to take place before the state banquet. Chen Yang brought the invitation to Shen Zechuan, but it was Ge Qingqing who received it.

“Lanzhou’s been doing work in the Imperial presence these days, and he hasn’t got any time to spare. I’ll accept this on his behalf.” Ge Qingqing took the invitation, and moved through the pleasantries with Chen Yang before asking, “The Imperial Guard has been thriving lately, so you must be busy too, Lieutenant Chen?”

“When the Governor’s buried in paperwork and stuck to his desk every day, us men can hardly complain of being busy,” Chen Yang replied, drinking his tea. “Speaking of thriving, you’re a prime specimen, Brother Ge, rising to Division Adjudicator in the aftermath of the Brocade Guard’s calamity. You’ve got good times ahead of you.”

The two men put up a pretty show of civility, making cordial small talk, each doing their best to keep up the appearance of goodwill. There had been frequent friction between the Imperial and Brocade Guards of late, which had given birth to much antipathy, and neither party could much stand the look of the other these days.

Chen Yang only took his leave after their second round of tea. As Ge Qingqing saw him out, behind him, Shen Zechuan emerged from the curtains.

“What a horribly timed invite,” Ge Qingqing said as he handed it over. “Are you really going?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Shen Zechuan opened the invitation, written in Xiao Chi’ye’s strong, unruly hand.

“There’re already signs that Xiao Ce’an is coming after the Brocade Guards. The Imperial Guard has been intercepting our missions one after another, and he’s deep in the Emperor’s favour at the moment. If he was to try anything now…” Ge Qingqing’s voice dropped away.

“What he’s trying cannot be any more obvious,” Shen Zechuan closed the invite up. “He wants to keep the Brocade Guard down, and make the whole of Qu Capital his domain, so that the Emperor has no one but his Imperial Guard to rely upon. Unless I’m mistaken, he’s got a few more rounds aimed at the Brocade Guard yet.”

“And isn’t that precisely why it’s too much risk to take Uncle Ji to this dinner?” Ge Qingqing said.

Shen Zechuan flicked the invite onto the table. He said, “This is about Zuo Qianqiu. He wouldn’t pull anything there.”

Ge Qingqing was not convinced.

The cut on Shen Zechuan’s lip had healed over. He put on his overcoat. “I’m going out for a bit,” he said.

Shen Zechuan walked out into the snow. It was falling lightly today, but the gale was no milder. When he arrived at Donglong Avenue, he ducked into Ouhua Lodge, right across from Xianghui House.

Xi Hongxuan had written some verses recently, and set them to music for the girls on Donglong Avenue to sing. They had become a surprising hit. Even more ingeniously, he had hollowed out the ground beneath the stage at Ouhua Lodge, and filled it with wide-mouthed copper vats, covering them with only a single layer of wooden planks. Then he bought a fresh batch of virgins from Juexi and, after many days of training, tied bells to their ankles, so that when they danced on the platform, their wooden clogs tapping time, the chime of bells echoed within the copper vessels, making a marvellous and ethereal sound.

As Shen Zechuan entered, they were still singing one of his songs on the stage, and the man himself, fan in hand, reclined upon a wicker chair on the third storey, listening with his eyes closed. A serving girl in socks, silent on the woven carpet, knelt beyond the bead curtains and softly announced, “Er-ye, you have a guest.”

Xi Hongxuan did not open his eyes, but flicked his fan shut.

The serving girl got up, and lifted the curtains for Shen Zechuan.

Shen Zechuan entered, and saw that another girl knelt by Xi Hongxuan’s feet, massaging his legs.

“Show Shen-gongzi to his seat.” Xi Hongxuan was still tapping along to the tempo, all his attention on the singing.

The girl by his feet shuffled over on her knees, and made to help Shen Zechuan with his shoes. Shen Zechuan stopped her with a gesture, then went to sit down.

When the song wound to a close, Xi Hongxuan finally sat up. As he sipped his tea, he tapped his fan in the girl’s direction, and said, “This one’s new, she’s clean.”

Shen Zechuan did not turn to look.

That made Xi Hongxuan laugh. He asked, watching Shen Zechuan, “You haven’t actually given yourself over to Xiao Ce’an, have you? What, are you saving yourself for him now?”

Surrounded by the warmth in that chamber, the colour of Shen Zechuan’s eyes and brow seemed almost washed out against the ink black of his hair, and he looked as if perhaps he truly did not partake of mortal fare. He said, “If you’re going to make me come over, skip to the important bit.”

Xi Hongxuan opened his fan again, his corpulent body swollen in the wicker chair. He said, “As your brother, I see you having a hard time over there hanging around with Xiao Ce’an, and I’m just inviting you over to let off some steam today. Is there a sorrier soul than Shen Lanzhou around? Back then, Xiao Ce’an kicked you in the chest and wrecked your health. Now you’ve got to put on a smile and fence with him. He really is the bane of your existence, isn’t he.”

“Isn’t he just,” Shen Zechuan made no attempt to skirt the subject, as though resigned to his fate. “That’s the kind of bastard he is.”

“But it doesn’t look like he’s planning to pull any punches against the Brocade Guard,” Xi Hongxuan said. “Lanzhou, the pillow talk doesn’t seem to have worked out?”

“You’re a sentimentalist.” Shen Zechuan accepted the hot towel from the serving girl, and wiped his hands. His eyes flicked to her, smiling, and that frigidity he had come in the door with disappeared without a trace, softening quietly into the manner and bearing he more customarily used. “You’ll pine after your little wife-to-be the same way today as you did years ago. Bed her once, and you’ll worship her and adore her to pieces. But Xiao Ce’an and I are only strangers passing in the night. Sentiment doesn’t come into it.”

“From the sound of it,” Xi Hongxuan took up his chopsticks, “The two of you were just playing around?”

“There’re rules to the game,” Shen Zechuan said. “You get into bed because there’s something each of your wanted, and when everyone’s happy, it’s over. If you’re going to think about it every day afterwards, then it loses its simplicity, doesn’t it?”

Xi Hongxuan clapped his hands together and laughed out loud. “Good! Very good. Lanzhou, I was afraid that you’d be caught by your tender bits, and forget that you and I are the real compatriots here. Come, c’mere, have a taste of this dish, these are wild greens brought over by express courier from Qin province. Not even the imperial kitchen can get their hands on these goodies.”

The two of them picked over the vegetables.

Xi Hongxuan said, “Xiao Ce’an, well, he’s a tough cookie. Didn’t pay much attention to him before, and gave him the chance to flash his fangs at the Autumn Hunt. Now that he can’t hide them any more, he’s gone for open warfare. He took over the Eight Battalions, but gave all the key positions away to his own men, and not one of the Eight Families scored any real power. But he’s done such an airtight job on the courtesies, no one can find a single fault with the arrangements. Isn’t it maddening? Isn’t it just infuriating?”

Shen Zechuan saw a plate of cucumber slivers on the table, and did not touch it at all. He said, “Xiao Ce’an burnt all his bridges at the Nanlin hunting grounds, wagering that the Emperor would hold to their friendship and set him free. But that wager came to nothing, and he wound up under close scrutiny by the Six Ministries instead. Now that there’s no going back, the only thing he can do is make sure he gets some solid military power here in Qu capital. The Imperial Guard is to the Eight Battalions as the light of fireflies is to the lustre of a full moon. It’s serviceable, and yet not that useful. Now that he finally has the upper hand over us, he’d never let an opportunity slip by.”

“Of the twenty-four offices of the government, there used to be a Pan Rugui, and the East Service could’ve put a few dints in his edge at the very least. But now Pan Rugui is dead, and the East Service is mouldering in his wake. My god, in all the vastness of this great capital city, it seems there really is no one capable of locking horns with Xiao Ce’an!” Xi Hongxuan took another bite, then continued, “These days, I’m not as well-loved as I was, either. His Majesty listens to Hai Liangyi now, and he’s got his mind set on becoming a wise and benevolent ruler. He’s not as keen on coming out to play anymore.”

Shen Zechuan finished his bite, then said evenly, “A person who has lived for twenty-odd years will have settled firmly into his nature. If anyone could reform himself on the basis of a few wise words, then nothing in this world would ever be a problem.”

Xi Hongxuan’s chopsticks paused. “You mean…”

“Hai Liangyi is the noblest of noble men,” Shen Zechuan put down his chopsticks. “He is a well of crystal-clear water, and when a man like him comes up against our present monarch, water meets scalding oil, and an explosion is inevitable. Xue Xiuzhuo has come this far, so why doesn’t he want to go further up the ladder? It’s not as if he isn’t qualified for the cabinet. The central government is crying out for talent.”

Xi Hongxuan said nothing.

Shen Zechuan said, “In the face of an external foe, how can the Eight Families continue to act separately, each to their own? You’ve made yourself head of the Xi family now. They say that the wheel of fortune never stops turning— the opportunity to do something is within your reach. Are you planning to let it go?”

Xi Hongxuan had put his chopsticks down too. He mopped at his brow with his handkerchief, staring at Shen Zechuan. He said, “You want me to rally the Eight Families against Xiao Ce’an?”

Shen Zechuan said, “Xiao Ce’an is only one of them. Civil ministers are in the Emperor’s favour at the moment, and even the Imperial Academy is flourishing in this climate. In a few years, when its low-born students graduate onto the political scene, what’s going to become of the soft and comfortable sons of the Eight Families? If the lower classes gain power, and there is an ascension of the newly rich, Young Master, there will no longer be only “Eight” of your Families.”

Xi Hongxuan said, “Even so… that’s a tough proposition. Putting everything else aside, that Yao Wenyu would never agree to it. Hai Liangyi taught him personally, and he’s spent these few years travelling all over the map, making friends with scores upon scores of people with virtue and learning. He’d never agree to join us.”

Shen Zechuan smiled. “They call it the Eight Families, but there’s no reason it must be those particular eight. If the Yao family won’t do, all we need to do is find another.”

Xi Hongxuan stopped eating. He pushed his chair away, and paced about the room. A moment later, he looked towards Shen Zechuan again. “But how do you plan to keep Xiao Ce’an in check? If he’s acting as the Emperor’s keeper, he won’t be sitting back to watch all this happen. And if it was just him, I wouldn’t break a sweat, but he’s got the Libei Iron Cavalry standing behind him. As long as Xiao Jiming exists, Xiao Ce’an is untouchable. It’s impossible!”

“Xiao Jiming is formidable, but his seat of power is at the border.” Shen Zechuan’s head was propped on one hand, his eyes hidden in the shadows. He gave Xi Hongxuan a final push. “Qu Capital is your domain. The saying goes that even dragons won’t touch a snake in its underground haunt. There’re more than enough ways to make Xiao Ce’an scramble.”

Trapped in thought, Xi Hongxuan did not even notice that Shen Zechuan had said “your”, instead of “our”. He asked, “Like what?”

Shen Zechuan chuckled soundlessly. “All of Xiao Ce’an’s power stems from the Emperor’s trust. They’ve been brothers for all these years, shared those great days drinking together, and one owes the other his life, so on short notice, there genuinely isn’t a way to shake that. But here’s the thing about sentiment— it’s the glitter of dewdrops on a branch. Once the midday sun comes up, it goes up in steam.”

Xi Hongxuan looked at Shen Zechuan, and the memory of Ji Lei in that rainy night came to him again. The gourmet vegetables churned in his stomach. He struggled not to show it, and said, smiling, “Go on then, since you’re so confident.”

After Shen Zechuan was gone, Xi Hongxuan laid back into his wicker chair, and had the table cleared. It was difficult for him to turn himself over without assistance, and the air was suddenly stifling. He had the windows opened.

Xue Xiuzhuo came around the partition, and Xi Hongxuan sighed feelingly. “You heard all that? Thank heavens he was born the son of Shen Wei. If he was allowed to come in to power, he’d be even worse than Xiao Ce’an to deal with.”

“You have to match your cure to the ailment.” Xue Xiuzhuo poured himself some tea. “No one is devoid of desires. Shen Lanzhou has his weakness too. As long as you have that in your grasp, you have nothing to fear from even the most vicious cur.”

“But the problem is, I couldn’t find it.” Xi Hongxuan tapped his fan against his forehead. “The way it looked to me, he was even indifferent about Xiao Ce’an. He’d roll out of bed with him and then turn on him without skipping a beat. A devil like that, you couldn’t shame him or praise him, or even threaten him.”

Xue Xiuzhuo drank his tea and smiled at that. He said peaceably, “Why fret? Just do exactly as he says, and however it turns out, it’ll be a bane on Xiao Ce’an. When the time comes, he’ll show his hand.”

Shen Zechuan went downstairs, but he did not leave immediately. The madame of the house came up to him, knowing nothing but that he was an honoured guest of Xi Hongxuan’s. In a wheedling voice, she asked, “What is my lord looking at? My lord can look all he wants, but all the looking will be nothing compared to having a taste.”

Shen Zechuan considered the flock of overdecorated girls, and asked, “Are there boys?”

The madame turned to an assistant behind and said, “Show my lord upstairs, and fetch a few of the fresh and untouched ones to see to him.”

Shen Zechuan waited for a few moments in a room, and three boys came in. He cast an eye over them.. All three were trim and tidy.

The madame, a sensible woman, had seen that going by looks alone, she could have turned her lodge inside out and found no one as exquisite as Shen Zechuan himself. Therefore, she had broken from convention, and gone for clean-featured youths instead.

One of the boys came forward to help Shen Zechuan with his shoes. When Shen Zechuan shifted his foot away slightly, all of them went down onto their knees, and did not venture a second movement.

Shen Zechuan looked out the window. A few moments later, he said, “Take your clothes off.”

The three boys began to undress in mute docility. As they did, Shen Zechuan gazed at their pale shoulders, his heart as still as ice. Then he looked at their hands, each one shaped like a girl’s, as though they had never seen a single day of work.

They did not bear calluses, or wear a thumb ring.

Shen Zechuan breathed out a slow sigh. He got up, slid the door open, and left without a word, leaving three boys behind him, one looking at another, nonplussed.

Ding Tao, who had been following Shen Zechuan, watched him finally emerge from Ouhua Lodge, and wrote this down scrupulously in his slightly crumpled notebook. But when he looked up from his jottings, Shen Zechuan had passed into the crowds. Taking no chances, Ding Tao hurried to catch up, following him at a slight distance.

Shen Zechuan did not seem to be walking very quickly, but in the blink of an eye, he was gone.

Ding Tao cried, “Ah!” and sped forward, but a burly man in a large straw hat stepped into his path. The second they came into contact, he sensed that the man was a professional.

There were people packed all around them. Not wishing to hurt anyone, Ding Tao checked himself, and Shen Zechuan slipped away from him again. He waved a fist in the air fruitlessly, but on second thought, realised that there had been something vaguely familiar about that burly man from a second ago.

As the sky grew dark, snow fell more thickly.

The burly man travelled on for some distance, his hat pressed low over his face. Then he turned, and entered a blind alley.

Shen Zechuan stood behind him. He shot him a look and said, “You’ve been following me for half a month. How can I help?”

The burly man pressed the brim of his hat even lower, but chuckled out loud. He said, “Have you known for a while? How sharp.”

“You’re very good at hiding your presence,” Shen Zechuan said. “Didn’t you teach me a few little tricks too? Moments out of prison and you were gone without a trace, leading them on a merry chase out of Qu capital. You’ve really made a special effort.”

The man cast his hat off, revealing an unshaven face. Qiao Tianya huffed at the hair over his forehead, and said, “You could’ve led me into a liquor store. Do we have to stand out here for this?”

“I had a wily hare to catch.” Shen Zechuan looked at him for a few moments. Then he asked, “Should I call you Qiao Tianya, or address you as Song Yue?”

“Whichever pleases,” Qiao Tianya said. “If you call me Qiao Tianya, we’re a bit of an acquaintance. If it’s Song Yue, then you’re my master.”

“You’re a man of no small ability, Master Adjudicator. Why are you taking orders from my tutor?” Shen Zechuan asked.

“I can’t help that,” Qiao Tianya gave a self-mocking quirk of his lip. “I owe the Grand Tutor my life, and I’ve got to pay the debt by doing grunt work for the rest of it.”

“Everything went off very smoothly that night at the hunting grounds,” Shen Zechuan said. “So it was because we had your help.”

“Seeing as I’ve thrown my lot in with you, I was taking my cues from you,” Qiao Tianya said. “You were planning to assassinate Prince Chu that night, but Xiao Ce’an surprised you with how wild he played his cards, forcing the Prince before the Brocade Guards, and leading everyone on a merry jig. But you’ve got a good head on you, to be able to give Xiao Ce’an a leg up amidst it all.”

“That’s about all I’m good for,” Shen Zechuan said.

Qiao Tianya dusted the snow from his shoulders, and said, “Well, I’m all yours from now, master. If you win yourself a slice of the meat, don’t forget to save me some of the broth afterwards. I’m much easier keeping than Xiao Ce’an’s gaggle of guards, anyway.”

“Ding Tao’s only young,” Shen Zechuan tossed him his bag of coin. “Chen Yang and Gu Jin are the ones you should worry about.”

Qiao Tianya pocketed the money, and said, “You’ve gone and tipped Xiao Ce’an’s household upside down and shaken it for change, meanwhile the poor guy’s still hung up on the fact that you saved his life.”

Shen Zechuan smiled. “You sound like you’d like to work for him instead.”

“I’m just a trusty, devoted bodyguard,” Qiao Tianya raised both hands in an innocent gesture. “If Xiao Ce’an offers to buy me with a thousand gold pieces, I’d definitely lay myself across hot coals for him too.”

Shen Zechuan said, “It’s a pity that he already has a mob around him, and there’s no place left for you.”

“My little master,” Qiao Tianya tipped his head to the side, narrowing an eye at him. He said, “What a venomous tongue you have.”

Shen Zechuan feigned a look of modesty.

“But what you just said,” Qiao Tianya flashed his teeth in a grin. “Applies to both of us, doesn’t it?”


Eight days later, Shen Zechuan and Ji Gang turned up at the appointed time.

Ding Tao had obviously told on them, because Gu Jin was not drinking today. He stood outside the doors, and from a distance, spotted Qiao Tianya as he approached behind Shen Zechuan.

Ding Tao was immediately on his toes, whispering, “Jin-ge, that’s him, that’s the guy!”

Shen Zechuan and Ji Gang were invited in by Chen Yang, and Qiao Tianya would, of course, remain outside⁠— except he did not seem to have the good manners to do so, and the foot he extended over the threshold was deflected by Gu Jin.

“Brother, I hear you got in this kid’s way a few days ago,” Gu Jin gave the straw hat a piercing look. “It’s not very chivalrous to bully children.”

Ding Tao ‘hmph’ed self-righteously, and echoed, “Not very chivalrous at all!”

Qiao Tianya laughed aloud, and took off his straw hat, a flippant grin on his face. “I thought we were here for dinner tonight? Or is fighting on the menu? This is the first time I’ve met this kid here, brother, have you made a mistake?”

Ding Tao exclaimed, and said indignantly, “How can you be like that? I would never get it wrong!”

Gu Jin held Ding Tao back, and came up to Qiao Tianya himself.

The two men, nearly identical in stature, stood face to face, almost bumping chests.

Gu Jin said, “This isn’t the day for it. We’ll make another time.”

“But I’m busy,” Qiao Tianya tugged at the lock of hair before his face, and smiled maddeningly at Gu Jin. “After all, I’m the only one my master’s got, and I haven’t got the time to adopt little brothers.”

Gu Jin spat coldly. “Give us a name. There’ll be plenty of time to catch up in the future.”

“Your humble servant, Qiao Moon Moon,” Qiao Tianya saluted Ding Tao with two fingers. “They also call me Songsong.”

Meanwhile, Chen Yang showed Shen Zechuan and Ji Gang into the premises. It was larger than it seemed from the outside, and they walked between a pair of encircling galleries, and through a moon gate, until a garden awash in red plums came elegantly into view.

Xiao Chi’ye stood waiting under a tree. As Shen Zechuan stepped into the yard, their eyes met for a second, and before any of the undercurrents there could take shape, both of them shifted their eyes away.

Xiao Chi’ye greeted Ji Gang, and said smiling, “Forgive me for not coming out to meet you, Teacher-Uncle. The table has been laid, and Teacher has been waiting inside for some time.”

Ji Gang looked at Xiao Chi’ye, and stopped him as he went to make a bow. He said, “Your Teacher parted ways with the Ji family twenty-odd years ago, and you have become a school unto yourself in that time. We are not of the same sect, and there is no need for these formalities.”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “Sharing that root makes us kin of the same sect. I am only able to use the melded forms of various schools today because the Ji Family Fist first opened them up to me. I have long held you in esteem, Teacher-Uncle, and this gesture must be made.”

Xiao Chi’ye made his bow, and led Ji Gang inwards, not neglecting to turn aside to Shen Zechuan to say, “Lanzhou and I haven’t seen each other in quite a few days, either.”

Shen Zechuan stepped over the threshold, smiling. “You’re a prominent man these days, sect-brother. You must be too busy.”

“We’re kin,” Xiao Ce’an said smoothly. “No matter how busy it gets, I’ve got to put some time aside for you.”

“I couldn’t ask you to put off real work on my behalf,” Shen Zechuan said. “All I’ve had recently have been easy assignments, so I know my sect-brother is already looking out for me.”

“Don’t mention it,” Xiao Chi’ye said, lifting aside the curtains at the door. “If you want to get busy again, come find me any time. My rooms are always open to you.”

The back of Shen Zechuan’s neck prickled at the word “rooms”. There seemed to be a searing heat lingering where he had been bitten, and his smile waned under its burn.

Zuo Qianqiu was dressed in a wide-sleeved, diagonal-collared robe, his white hair swept up into a knot. He looked neither like a gentle scholar, nor a fearsome general. Though he was some years older than Ji Gang, he seemed the younger instead. If a word had to be found, then it might be said that there was something otherworldly about him. Rumour was that he had given up all his worldly attachments for monkhood. Those rumours might not have been unfounded.

Zuo Qianqiu turned around, and saw Ji Gang.

Ji Gang had worn a plain cotton tunic today, with a raggedy coat thrown over it, his face ruined. He stood there, looking back at Zuo Qianqiu, and for an instant, the sands of time roiled about them, and the laughter of young boys rang out right by their ears, even as they looked at each other, two men with frost at their temples.

Xiao Chi’ye broke the silence, and said, “Please enjoy your dinner inside⁠— Lanzhou and I will wait out here.”

“Wrap up warmly, Chuan-er,” Ji Gang turned aside to say to Shen Zechuan, his expression bereft. “Come in if you get cold.”

Shen Zechuan nodded.

Zuo Qianqiu said, “A-ye, look after your sect brother.”

Xiao Chi’ye answered cheerfully, and the two of them left the room to their elders.

As Shen Zechuan stepped down from the veranda, he looked out into the deeply meandering garden of red plum trees, woven through with step-stones and bridges. The garden, and this estate, was constructed of an elegance that did not seem like the work of Xiao Chi’ye.

“I bought this place from the Yao family.” Xiao Chi’ye seemed to guess his thoughts. Coming to stand behind him, he swept aside a spray of red blossoms, revealing the clear stream that wound its way around the garden. “It’s pretty. And expensive.”

“How free-handed of you.” Shen Zechuan did not look around.

Xiao Chi’ye’s chest bumped lightly into Shen Zechuan’s spine, and he placed a hand over the top of Shen Zechuan’s head, leaning close into his ear to be a dick. He said, “Snow-mantled red plums, and a scent-clad Lanzhou. A thousand gold pieces for a single smile.”

“You’ve pawned your trousers away as down payment, haven’t you?” A smile did began to slip over Shen Zechuan’s face.

“I did spend a good amount of gold, but Yao Wenyu was already giving it away for less than it was worth.” Xiao Chi’ye took a moment’s pause, then said, “You’re really quick at running off. And you’ve been going to a lot of trouble to avoid me.”

“I was avoiding you?” Shen Zechuan reached up and flicked Xiao Chi’ye’s palm off his head. “Was there something important we had to meet in person to talk about?”

Xiao Chi’ye smiled, a touch of viciousness in his curved lips. “You’ve had your way with Er-gongzi, after all. Aren’t you going to comfort him a little afterwards?”

Shen Zechuan took a few steps forward, taking himself off Xiao Chi’ye’s chest. Then he turned around and looked at Xiao Chi’ye with an appraising eye, saying nothing.

In that plum-scented, star-strewn evening light, each of the two men finally came upon, in retrospect, some realisation about their encounter.

Xiao Chi’ye realised that what he had grasped between his hands that night had been a rivulet of water. Once it had trickled past, it was truly all gone, and Shen Zechuan did not carry a scrap of lingering feeling about it. When the frenzy was over, all of the scalding heat of their entanglement had been buried beneath the impenetrable night. When Shen Zechuan had thrown his head back, unmoored and lost in pleasure, he had held not a single thought of Xiao Chi’ye.

Xiao Chi’ye became once again acutely aware of this single fact:

That night, he was the only person to have lost to desire.

“I did warn you,” Shen Zechuan moved a sprig of plum flowers aside with his fingers, murmuring almost mesmerically to Xiao Chi’ye, “That it would not be in your interests to bite down on this neck.”

“The beast with two backs,” Xiao Chi’ye bared his teeth in a careless smile, “Isn’t a creature I can make all by myself.”

“The greatest difference between you and I, Xiao Ce’an, is desire. You are a creature engulfed in desire, doing all you can to conceal your ravening ambition. The sight of a nape was only a small trial amongst it all, and you grabbed onto me, trying to resist it, trying to conquer it, but in the end, you succumbed to it. But oh, Ce’an,” Shen Zechuan picked a plum blossom from a branch, tore its petals apart, and put a petal in his mouth. “I haven’t even got any of those desires within me. How are you going to put up a fight against me now?”

Xiao Chi’ye took one step forward, caught the hand with the flower, and leaned in, pressing into Shen Zechuan’s space. He said lightly, “What’s a single night? If that didn’t hit the spot, we can go a few more rounds. You can’t use the girls in Ouhua Lodge, and you didn’t dare touch the boys. You’ve made yourself out to be some chaste, untouchable saint, but I wasn’t the one making all those noises that night.”

Xiao Chi’ye pulled Shen Zechuan’s hand up to his own lips, holding it dangerously against his teeth. He gave a short, derisive laugh.

“I did lose to desire, but if you’re so sure of yourself, why would you come put yourself to the test at all? Shen Lanzhou, you’re more afraid than I am of losing to desire, aren’t you?

9 thoughts on “Book One, Chapter 42: Red Plum

  1. Your translation is out of this world. I am way ahead on the other one and no disrespect to her ’cause either way it’s all hard work you guys are doing, but no matter what chapter I get to I will always come back here to read yours. Superb. THANK YOU.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so happy to see this updated! Loved this chapter, thank you so much! Are you going to go back to your regular pace, that is, one chapter every 1.5 weeks, or will you be taking it slower? Not that I’m complaining! Your translations are always golden, so please take as much as time you need. I just want to know if there could be another hiatus?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi! Thank you for following along :> I plan to return to my regular pace. The intention is always to see this through to the end, no matter how long it took, but I didn’t expect to have an emotionally invested audience! If I need to take a hiatus again, I will definitely put up an announcement before hand 🙂


  3. This is one of the best translations I’ve read. It’s really high quality, I hope the translator won’t drop it because I’m invested. I’ll recommend this site to my other bl reading friends


    1. Thank you maryannecarlene! This translation will run all the way to the final chapter (unless of course QJJ becomes licensed in english!), but it may take…some time………
      Nevertheless, go forth and spread the QJJ gospel!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s