The doctor finished writing the prescription, the maid took it, Xia Yin stood up, thanked the doctor, turned around and went out.
Xia Xun could not avoid her and met her head-on.
Xia Yin’s eyes swept over his face casually while Xia Xun was frozen on the spot, not knowing how to react.
Should he call her “sister”? How should he explain that he and Xia Wen were not dead? Will she report him to the authorities and get him arrested?
His mind wandered, countless thoughts flashing in his head. Within a few moments, he had envisioned many scenarios, except for the one that really occurred.
—Xia Yin did not recognize him.
Her eyes did not linger on his face, and with the awkwardness of accidentally meeting a stranger, she gently nodded to him and then brushed past him together with her little maid, without a moment’s pause in her walk.
Xia Xun could not help but take two steps after her.
The maid heard his footsteps, looked back at him, didn’t take him seriously and followed her lady downstairs.
Xia Xun was stunned, frozen in place.
The doctor called him from the room.
“Young master, you are here to see a doctor?”
Xia Xun snapped back to his senses, turned around and went inside. He sat in front of the doctor and handed over his wrist. His heart was heavy.
The doctor did not immediately take his pulse, but examined his expression.
“…Young master has such a worried look. Even if one is not sick, holding so much sadness and anxiety will cause a disease.”
Xia Xun was distracted and did not hear what the doctor was saying. Finally he made up his mind and asked directly:
“That lady just now… are you familiar with her?”
The doctor looked at him.
“What? Is she your sweetheart? No way, you look at least seven or eight years younger than her, when she got married, you were just a little doll, right?”
Xia Xun said: “No, she is my… she looks like my distant cousin. I have not seen her for many years, so I can’t tell if it is her, that’s why I asked you about her.”
The doctor pondered and said:
“Well… it’s not impossible. There was a big upheaval in the family of that lady a few years ago. Later she was convicted and together with her husband was expelled from the capital. After suffering two consecutive blows, she was not in good health for a while. She saw many doctors but nothing helped. A few years ago through the introduction of some people she came to Ruiji Guan. This old doctor saw that she was calm and generous, so I promised to keep her secret and not to let others know that she was coming to the capital to see the doctor. She cannot enter the capital, so you naturally might have lost contact with her.”
Xia Xun continued asking:
“Do you know what crime she committed to be banned from entering the capital?”
The doctor took a sip of water and said he did not know.
“Since she didn’t mention it, I didn’t dare to ask. But you are her relative, haven’t you heard about it?”
Xia Xun shook his head.
The doctor said: “No matter whether she is a relative of the young master or not, it is time for this old man to check the young master’s pulse.”
He put his four fingers on Xia Xun’s wrist and closed his eyes to feel his pulse carefully.
After a while, he opened his eyes and said to Xia Xun:
“This is an old disease, and I’m afraid it will be difficult to cure it.”
Xia Xun said calmly:
“I know, I didn’t think it could be cured. It’s just that once autumn starts I have a cough. I would like you to prescribe some medicine to relieve it.”
The doctor thought about it and wrote a prescription for him.
“If you are free, come and let me see you every three days, maybe I can eradicate it.”
Xia Xun took the prescription and blew on it to make the ink dry quickly.
“Thanks a lot, but it probably won’t be of much use.”
Recently, Qi Yan did not have much official business and always had time to spare. In the past when he entered the palace, he would not return until youshi (5-7 pm). But lately he finished doing his work by noon and rushed home for lunch daily.
Thinking that Xia Xun was absent, Qi Yan got down from the carriage and walked into the house unhurriedly. Once he entered the main hall, he saw Xia Xun sitting at the dining table, eating the dinner intently.
The moment Qi Yan saw him, his heart soared, as if a heavy burden of a thousand pounds was lifted from it. He felt a smile on his face; after a pause, he took two steps forward, sitting next to Xia Xun.
A servant brought a basin of water; he washed his hands and deliberately teased Xia Xun:
“Didn’t you say you’d be back before nightfall? What happened? Is the food outside not good?”
Xia Xun was busy picking the meat from a rib and ignored him.
Qi Yan put the rib into his bowl; his chopsticks moved lightly, and the meat that Xia Xun spent half a day tearing off came off the bone smoothly.
He gave the meat back to Xia Xun and threw the bone into an empty plate.
Xia Xun didn’t pretend to be polite, picked up the meat and ate it.
Qi Yan asked with a smile:
“What did the doctor say? What medicine did he prescribe for you?”
Xia Xun pointed with his chopsticks in the direction of a dozen paper packages of various herbs.
“It’s all there, don’t you want to check? Go ahead.”
Qi Yan said: “Why do we need to open each package and look at it? Just give me the prescription.”
Xia Xun chewed the meat and said, his speech slurred: “You didn’t tell me beforehand you needed the prescription, so I lost it.”
Qi Yan felt suspicious and asked, raising his eyebrows: “Why did you throw it away?”
Xia Xun said: “On the way back, I bought a cake. It was too oily, so I took the paper with the prescription to wrap it, and when the cake was finished, I also threw the paper away.”
Qi Yan was convinced for the time being and asked: “What did the doctor say?”
Xia Xun was indifferent.
“He said that I had not been to the capital for a long time, so I’m not acclimatised. And the autumn is dry, so my lungs feel too hot. He prescribed me some medicine to moisten my lungs.”
He said it in one breath from start to finish. Qi Yan believed him, relaxed, picked up his chopsticks and prepared to eat.
Xia Xun said unexpectedly for himself: “I saw Xia Yin in the clinic today.”
Qi Yan almost threw his chopsticks: “You saw Xia Yin? You should have told me that first thing! Then did she—?!”
Xia Xun stopped him.
“Don’t worry, she didn’t recognize me.”
Qi Yan was stunned and unconsciously repeated his words.
“She didn’t recognize you?”
Xia Xun looked as if he was not surprised at all.
“There is nothing strange about it, she married when I was very young and she didn’t meet me much. It is only natural that she did not recognize me.”
Qi Yan’s face was unhappy. Xia Xun glanced at him and asked suspiciously:
“Why do you always look like you have a strong opinion about her every time she is mentioned? What crime did she commit to be driven out of the capital? Who could she offend, a weak woman who barely leaves home?”
Qi Yan was silent for a moment and then said in a deep voice: “She offended me.”
Xia Xun frowned. “What do you mean?”
Qi Yan dismantled another rib for him.
“…It’s a very boring story, if you want to know, I’ll pick out some of the important details and tell you.”
It was shortly before He Cong married.
One day, he was coming back from the court late at night. It was already dark; a few streets away from his home his carriage was stopped.
When He Cong lifted the curtain, he saw that the man who stopped his carriage was Qi Yan.
Qi Yan was standing in the darkness, his face grim.
He Cong was not going to pretend being nice to him and said indifferently:
“If Lord Qi doesn’t back off, don’t blame my horse for having poor eyesight and pulling the carriage to crush your legs!”
Qi Yan lifted his dark eyes and aggressively questioned:
“Why do you want to marry? It’s only been a few years since Xia Xun died, and you want to marry someone?”
He Cong stood up swiftly, pointed at Qi Yan and cursed: “You still remember that Xia Xun died? First you cruelly killed his whole family! And now you’re asking me about it so pompously? Shame on you! You are not qualified! Coachman, ignore him! Keep going!”
Qi Yan grabbed the coachman’s hand that was about to raise the whip and pulled hard, dragging him and He Cong out of the carriage together.
The coachman fell to the ground, and He Cong stumbled but managed to keep his balance.
He rushed at Qi Yan, intent to fight with him, but was blocked by Qi Hui.
“Good! Good!” He Cong laughed in exasperation, “I don’t know what you’re mad about! But Lord Qi, I’m telling you plainly! Xia Xun is dead! No matter what you do to me, he’s not coming back!”
He grabbed the coachman by the back of his collar and lifted him up, pushed him to the carriage, and got in himself.
Qi Yan stood still and did not retreat.
He Cong bellowed: “If he doesn’t step aside, roll over his feet!”
The coachman didn’t dare to hurt Qi Yan, so he turned the horse and the wheels brushed against Qi Yan’s clothes as the carriage drove past in a hurry.
Until He Cong’s carriage disappeared at the end of the road, Qi Yan did not move.
Qi Hui reminded him in a soft voice: “My lord, Lord He has gone far away.”
Qi Yan seemed to have lost his soul; his lips opened and closed but his voice was barely audible.
“…He Cong, He Cong is actually going to take a wife… Could it be that… no one remembers him anymore…”
Qi Hui did not dare to urge him, quietly waiting by his side.
After a long time, Qi Yan, as if he was awaken from a dream, said to Qi Hui in a trance:
“…Come with me to Baohong Temple tomorrow…”
Baohong Temple was located in the mountains in the western suburbs of the city and was the most popular temple in the capital. Many dignitaries and noblemen came there to worship their ancestors.
After Xia Hongxi’s death, the emperor ordered that no one was allowed to worship the Xia family. Even Xia Yin could not worship her parents.
Despite the risk of being punished by the emperor, Qi Yan erected a small memorial tablet to Xia Xun in the temple’s Hall of Thousand Buddhas.
Three high walls of the Hall of Thousand Buddhas were lined with thousands of large and small tablets; Xia Xun’s was hiding in the corner where no one would notice it.
Every first and fifteenth day of the month Qi Yan was sure to come to the Baohong Temple to offer incense.
The tablets of his parents and elder brother were in another hall. He would stay in front of the family’s tablets for a long time, but did not go much to see Xia Xun.
He never explained but Qi Hui understood it. It was not because Qi Yan was cold; he just couldn’t accept it, as if he could pretend Xia Xun was still alive as long as he didn’t see his tablet.
Qi Hui never pointed it out, helping Qi Yan to deceive himself.
The next day, at dawn, Qi Yan set out.
When he arrived at Baohong Temple, the doors had just opened.
Qi Yan stepped into the Hall of Thousand Buddhas.
Inside the hall, there was someone who actually had come earlier than him.
It was a woman, kneeling with her hands clasped together, chanting under her breath. In the incense burner in front of her, three sticks of incense had not yet burned out and there were burning paper money and paper figurines in the brazier
Qi Yan slowly walked in and as the distance shortened, he could hear her chanting the “Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra”.
The woman was Xia Yin.
Xia Yin was so immersed in grief that she did not hear any movement around.
Qi Yan stood behind her and looked at the tablets in front of her. He saw Xia Hongxi, Lady Xia, Xia Wen and even Xia Xing, but only Xia Xun’s name was missing.
After reciting the “Amitabha Pure Land Rebirth Mantra”, Xia Yin opened her eyes and was about to kowtow when she suddenly realized that there was someone standing behind her and was so scared that she almost screamed.
When she saw Qi Yan’s face, her surprise turned to hatred, and she cursed, gasping for breath.
“It’s you?! How dare you come here?! All the gods and Buddhas are here watching! You killed my father and forced my mother to die, are you not afraid of retribution?!”
Qi Hui came forward and angrily rebuked her:
“If there is retribution, the death of Xia Hongxi is the greatest retribution! He broke the law and caused my lord’s parents to die! My lord was merciful and did not pursue you, letting you go! Isn’t that why you are able to be here and speak out? Don’t you know what’s good and bad—”
Qi Yan stopped him, his gaze firmly attached to the memorial tablets in front of them, as he asked Xia Yin:
“Why isn’t Xia Xun here?”
Xia Yin glared at him, “Who is Xia Xun?!”
Qi Yan looked at her incredulously.
“Did you even forget your brother’s name?”
Xia Yin finally remembered who Xia Xun was and snorted coldly.
“What brother! Is something born of a whore worthy of being my brother— hey, what are you doing?”
Deathly pale, Qi Yan picked up the incense burner and smashed it viciously on the ground, breaking three incense sticks into pieces. But it was still far from enough for him and he kicked over the fire brazier with a loud “clang”. The burning paper money fell on the ground and the ashes from paper scattered everywhere, fluttering in the wind.
Xia Yin was so angry that she rushed up, grabbed Qi Yan’s hand and bit down.
Qi Yan threw her on the ground; Xia Yin fell backwards, her eyes full of resentment stabbing him like knives.
Furious, Qi Yan scolded her: “You don’t deserve to be his sister! You don’t deserve to be his family! You don’t deserve to be in his presence! You don’t even deserve to live in the same place as him!”
Xia Yin laughed coldly and grimly: “Live? I’m still alive, but Xia Xun is dead! I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t even know what he looks like! What can you do to me? If you have the guts, you can go to the emperor and ask him to kill me as well!”
Qi Yan, despising and disdaining her, said bitterly: “You want to die? It’s not that easy! I will report to His Majesty, but I will not beg him to kill you! I will expel you from the capital! You will never be allowed to enter the city! I want you to live a long life and live with the pain of losing your loved ones for the rest of your life! Qi Hui, arrest her and send her to the Imperial Court of Judicial Review for questioning! Take down all the tablets of the Xia family! Burn all of them!”
Qi Hui escorted Xia Yin, who shouted and cursed, but was gagged by Qi Hui and dragged away by force.
The Hall of Thousand Buddhas soon regained its tranquillity.
Qi Yan, holding onto the wall, lowered his head and took several deep breaths, his heart beating fiercely, overflowing with rage.
Swaying, he walked to the familiar corner, where there was Xia Xun’s memorial tablet.
He stood facing Xia Xun, closed his eyes and tried his best to make his tone gentle.
“… I just made noise in front of you, right? It’s fine, don’t be afraid, the obnoxious ones have been driven away by me…”
He brushed his fingers over the words “Xia Xun” and slowly rested his head against the wooden tablet.
“Sorry I haven’t visited you for a long time, but… you probably don’t want to see me either, right? It’s fine, it’s fine to hate me, but, Xia Xun… if you can, can you come to my dream? Even once, no, even for a minute, for a moment, at least let me see you in my dream… Xia Xun, they have forgotten you… it’s fine, don’t be sad, even if everyone has forgotten, I will always remember you… Xia Xun, I have to go, I’ll see you later…”
With the light of the breaking dawn, Qi Yan walked out of the temple door, his shadow extremely long on the ground, merging with the incense ash everywhere, indistinguishably grey.