While Yue returns to Daxia, CQ continues her trip to Tangjing for a proper farewell to Li Ce before she leave for Qinghai. “There is still a long way to go, and accidents may burst at any time, are you afraid?” asked Yue while the two of them sitting shoulder by shoulder waiting for the twilight. “No, I’m not!” answered CQ. It is so clear that their withdrawn to Qinghai won’t be easy, but they’re determined once decided.
Just as CQ worried, on her half way to Tangjing, the rebel of prince Luo becomes real and the crowds of refugees are flocking to the capital. CQ has to camp outside the Hanshui city together with the other refugees and wait for further developments. According to Li Ce’s life story (mostly revealed in Vol III), prince Luo shares a miserable kinship with Li Ce for being his uncle and older brother. Li Ce’s mother, the current empress dowager of Biantang, had been one of the concubines of Li Ce’s grandfather, the emperor of Biantang by then, and their son, prince Luo, is the youngest brother of Li Ce’s father. When prince Luo was just about three month old, Li Ce’s father stepped on the throne by plotting the death of his own father. He also forced Li Ce’s mother to stay as his concubine by threating her with prince Luo’s life. A year later, there comes Li Ce, the only son of his father, and the only heir of his father’s throne. Prince Luo and Li Ce had grew up together as brothers. Very early at his age, without understanding the reason, Li Ce realized the fact that his mother had a great hatred towards him and all her love was dedicated to Luo, through which he learned to hide his real emotions under a cover of playful indifference. Then, there is A-Fu, an orphan of the great Murong family who had sacrificed the whole clan defending Biantang from the invasions of Daxia. About the same age as Li Ce, A-Fu was granted with the title of Princess due to the magnificent contributions of her family to the state, and was raised in the royal palace by Li Ce’s mother. The love triangle of prince Luo, princess Fu and Li Ce was destined. When Li Ce turned to 17, his status as crown prince was declared, and A-Fu was pointed to be his wife. The preparation of his wedding with A-Fu had been the happiest time in Li Ce’s life, for his best wish was soon becoming true. On their wedding day, the great joy had turned to a bitter suffering while Li Ce found A-Fu had hung herself and dead.
Li Ce had blamed himself as the principal of the tragedy, because he had not been capable to recognize the affection of A-Fu towards Luo. But when CQ pictured the full story out of the pieces of puzzles, she’d assume that the main cause of A-Fu’s suicide should have been her disappointment towards Luo. CQ was not defending Li Ce with an excuse. In fact, neither A-Fu nor Luo had confessed to Li Ce about their love, and when the engagement was planned, none of them showed any resistance to the decision either. If at any point before the wedding that Luo or A-Fu had expressed his/hers disagreement on the marriage, there would have been chance for Li Ce to prevent the wedding from happening. The most possible reason for such absurd silence can only be the ambiguous attitude of Luo. Did he really love A-Fu as she loved him? If he did love her, would he stand out to defense A-Fu and their love? Based on the fact that there had been no effort from Luo in preventing the engagement and the wedding, there must be a negative answer for either of the two questions. Smart, proud and staunch as A-Fu sounded, a “No” for any of those two questions would be nothing but a death penalty for her. Anyway, the more matured as they grown, the more clear it was for Li Ce and Luo that they were born enemies of each other. Life had been such an ironic that both possessed what their counterpart had been longing for: for Luo, it’s the power and the throne; and for Li Ce, it’s the love of their mother and A-Fu. After A-Fu’s death, prince Luo had been exiled by Li Ce’s father to Mei Shan Mountain in the south of Biantang, for apparently his existence in Tangjing meant a great threat to Li Ce. When prince Luo left from Tangjing, his rebel had been decided, all he needed was the patient and the time to prepare for it.
The violence of the rebel had lasted for more than one month, ended by the suicide of prince Luo after losing a vital battle. On the other hand, the price of Li Ce’s victory had been huge. Biantang had almost been teared apart and the prosperous south had been scorched. Although Li Ce had remitted the tax in the south to support the reconstruction, it is clear that the state of Biantang was weakened and required a long time to recover. CQ’s small hotel in Xuefu was also burned, so she decided to stay in Tangjing while waiting for Yue. Li Ce seems to be unchanged with his foxy smile, but CQ feels the pain under it. He said that he had hoped Luo would give up the rebel somehow on a whim, because a fight between them can only be ended by one of them dead. Li Ce doesn’t want to die, so he is left with no choice but to kill Luo, the brother he’d tried to love and protect. Why must this happen? A question for which CQ doesn’t have a proper answer either. Probably that’s just the truth of power, anyone who gets in touch with it will be submerged in a bloodshed, which not only consists of the blood of their enemies, but also that of their loved ones. For Li Ce, it’s prince Luo. As for Yan Xun, it’s Mr.Wu, Zhong Yu, Huanhuan, and many others. Never like this has CQ expected to leave from Ximeng.
Another autumn passed and the New Year is approaching. CQ and Yue has kept exchanging letters this time. Yue’s lengthy letters would be always formulated with the weather, the local economics and the political events, all briefed in an official tone as participating summit meeting. In the end, there would be one sentence about taking good care and watching on harmful persons. Li Ce would attempt to sneak a peek on Yue’s letters and would condemn Yue himself of being harmful, while CQ would have to acknowledge that both of them might be right. The New Year’s greeting from Yue has arrived along with piles of gifts including plenty of weird potatoes cultivated in Qinghai. In the end of the letter, written in a dark ink, it reads “Being entangled, wait for me.” The situations hasn’t been easy for Yue, as CQ knows. During the past years, YX and Zhao Yang had maintained a tacit ally for both were confronting the pressures from Yue, Zhao Che and Li Ce. Now that Li Ce has been weakened by its civil war, both Zhao Yang and YX started to make their moves. The tension between Zhao Yang and Zhao Che has reached to an extreme, and YX is waiting for his chance to take advantage of it. In her letter back to Yue, CQ sketched a Q version of the two of them sitting on a hill and facing a grassland edged by a vast lake, then she wrote it carefully “Waiting for you.”
While staying in Tangjing, CQ has met He Xiao for once. The latter had been entrusted by Li Ce with high rank authority in Biantang’s military. CQ was sorry for leaving the Xiuli army in Biantang, but He Xiao apologized that he himself and the Xiuli army had stressed her too much with the responsibilities that shouldn’t belong to her, and he encouraged CQ to leave everything else behind and just live for herself. By the end of spring, Li Ce’s second son is born (the third actually. The second son was dead out of sickness server month ago, which deepened Li Ce’s grief after the death of Luo). Now he has two sons and one daughter, the older son turns to six, and the daughter is four. The mother of Li Qingrong, Li Ce’s second son, is Zhan Ziming, the younger sister of Zhan Ziyu (who had helped CQ to reach Wupeng on his ship, the master of the after death camp in the drama). Zhan Ziming is granted with the highest rank of concubines after the birth of Li Qingrong, and her brother Zhan Ziyu has become a rising star on the political stage. The news that Li Ce was assassinated at Zhan Ziming’s place comes all of sudden. Luckily, the stab isn’t fatal and the assassination is put under investigation. CQ has been taking care of Li Ce by herself after the assassination. She is skeptical about the whole thing, but it’s not the right time to go through with it. Trying to comfort CQ from her worries, Li Ce joked that the preparation of her trousseau must be handed over to Sun Di (Li Ce’s best friend and right hand man), hope that he won’t be corrupt to taking profit from it. Three days later, Li Ce is getting better and it seems that he would be soon recovered. Hearing the assassination, Li Ce’s mother, the empress dowager who has been living in a temple outside the palace after prince Luo’s death, is coming back to visit Li Ce. She is seemed to be so concerned about Li Ce’s wound that CQ leaves to give the mother and the son a room for their privacy. It is too late for CQ to realize how stupid she’d been to leave the empress dowager alone with Li Ce, and when she runs back, he was stabbed, fatally, by his mother.
Lying on his own blood, Li Ce looks at his mother silently, while she announced in a crazy cruelness her revenge for her beloved son. There is no shock, and either hatred in his eyes. His handsome face is engulfed with a wave of fatigue that was hidden deepest in his soul. At that moment, CQ clearly sees the grief and pain that has always been embedded behind his dark eyes, which reminds her the withered coldness of the snow land in Yanbei. The empress dowager was held in control, but Li Ce orders a let go of her. CQ has accompanied Li Ce for the last moment of his life, while he’d consigned many things to her. CQ can’t help herself from regretting that she shouldn’t have left Li Ce alone with the empress dowager. But Li Ce comforts her with a slight sigh: ”Who would have thought about that? After all, she is my mother.” He also apologizes to CQ for not being able to keep his promise to host her wedding, and urges her to keep going with Yue. In the end, he lets CQ to comb his hair and asks whether he is in a good look. He smiles when his good looking is confirmed. CQ asks him about his further wishes, which he grins with a ”No” after a while of consideration. Then he calls her to come closer: “Qiaoqiao, let me hold you for a while.” The thread of CQ’s tear falls on Li Ce’s chest as his soft and warm breath vanishes.
CQ farewells to Li Ce from a far while his coffin is escorted to the royal mausoleum of Biantang. Holding a lantern in her hand, CQ wandered alone in the darkness on the empty streets of Tangjing. Again and again, the foxy smile of Li Ce flashes back in CQ’s mind. She had been too weak for too long, and now, that pathetic useless woman must gone. She remembers that once Yue had said “Life was like one being besieged with thorns, the moves can be held when mind is still, and without moves there is no harm. When mind moves, body moves, and there will be hurts on body and pains on bones, like tortures in hell.” But since all of them had already been trapped in thorns, why not slash the thorns with the sword in hand instead of closing the mind? Biantang is left in thunders and storms after Li Ce’s death, and countless things are left for CQ to taking care of. A cold wind has snuffed out the light of CQ’s lantern, and CQ throws the lantern away. Wiped the last drop of tears away from face, CQ promises to herself that the whining are done, from now on, there will be no tears from her eyes even with the final drop of her bloods running out.
ddmcmc: For me, the death of Li Ce had been the saddest part of the novel. Nobody in the novel had had an easy life, yet different characters made diverse choices on what to withhold and what to give up, and it was their choices made them adorable or despicable. Compare to Li Ce and Yue, I think YX is left with no excuse for abandoning his conscience.