Every five years, as the Spring Festival approached, a hunt would begin in the grounds of the Western Mountains within the outskirts of the capital. This hunt’s purpose was not to hunt many wild animals; it was a symbolic affair. When the royal family sacrificed to their ancestors on Lunar New Year’s Day, the emperor would personally place the offerings on the altar. This would make it clear that the Imperial Family’s descendants did not forget that their ancestors had forged ahead in blood-soaked military struggles to obtain their rule. (T/N: “their rule”–can also mean all of China, lit.: [what lies] underneath heaven).
On the day of the Western Mountains hunt, the Back Palace’s imperial concubines as well as the wives and concubines of the princes would attend. This was also the only opportunity in five years for these women held deep in the palace to leave it.
Luo Wei only remembered that five years had already passed and the hunt would begin upon hearing Luo Ze speak of the Western Mountains hunt.
“Xiao Wei, you stay in the palace so often,” Luo Ze said to Luo Wei. “Ask on your gege’s behalf how many palace ladies will attend, so that I can prepare in advance.” (T/N: Xiao = “small,” endearing prefix to a name. “Gege” = “older brother,” counts as a fairly familiar term of address vs. other forms of older brother).
“Second Brother is responsible for arranging the hunt this time?”
“My military camp has always been responsible for guarding,” Luo Ze replied. “Prince Xin will take care of the arrangements.”
This Prince Xin, Long Yi, was one among Emperor Xing Wu’s brothers whom he trusted. So Luo Wei said: “Then Second Brother should listen to the Grand Prince’s arrangements, just do whatever he says.” (T/N: keeping the previous translator’s “Grand Prince” translation for the title allocated to brothers of the emperor).
“But the problem is that he won’t say.” Luo Ze was anxious as he thought of the Grand Prince’s lukewarm, slowpoke temperament. “The Grand Prince only gave me one sentence. Xiao Wei, guess what it was.”
“What is it?” How could Luo Wei guess this?
“The Grand Prince said.” Luo Ze paused and imitated Grand Prince Xin’s voice: “General Luo, you just figure it out.”
“The Grand Prince said this to you?” Luo Wei had to think a bit more. What did the Grand Prince mean by this? Did he believe in Second Brother, or did he plan to push all the blame onto Second Brother if anything happened?
“Yes, that’s exactly what he said. I asked him several times, and every time it was the same reply,” Luo Ze answered.
“If the Grand Prince feels reassured that Second Brother will handle things, then Second Brother you should just handle things well,” Luo Wei said. “But every matter that you handle, you have to report to Grand Prince Xin.”
“En, everything, no matter how big or small. This also shows respect for Grand Prince Xin.”
“All right, I’ll listen to you,” Luo Ze agreed. “I don’t care, as long as the Grand Prince doesn’t think I’m annoying.”
“Even if he finds Second Brother annoying, Second Brother still must report,” said Luo Wei, “otherwise if something really happens, should Second Brother shoulder all the responsibility?”
“That’s what the Grand Prince meant?” Luo Ze frowned.
“Regardless of whether he meant that or not,” Luo Wei calculated, “If something really happens, the result will be like this. It would still be better for Second Brother to be a bit more careful.”
Luo Ze waved his hands at Luo Wei. “What could happen in the Imperial Hunt? The grounds are cleared beforehand, and the common folk already can’t enter the Western Mountains now. On the day of the hunt, soldiers will be stationed outside. What accident could happen?”
Luo Wei said: “It’s said that not even a drop of water could trickle through, and not even a fly can pass. Second Brother, if the water truly comes, can your soldiers defend against that? Let’s not speak of flies, I see that even a flock of eagles can fly into the Western Mountains ba?”
“Xiao Wei, you are seriously biting words and chewing characters,” Luo Ze replied. (T/N: ie. paying attention to minutiae in phrasing.)
“Don’t aim for merit, but try to avoid mistakes,” Luo Wei advised. “Second Brother, you have to remember my words. All matters big and small must be reported to the Grand Prince Xin.”
“I get it.” Luo Ze believed in Luo Wei’s counsel now, otherwise he wouldn’t have specifically come to Luo Wei to speak with him. “Then you also go to the palace to help me ask around.”
“Let’s not ask this. Second Brother should just assume that all the ladies in court will come,” Luo Wei said.
“All of them going?”
Luo Wei replied, “Making the arrangements is Second Brother’s matter, and going or not are the ladies’ matters. Why should Second Brother care about the ladies’ inclinations?”
“So it’s this kind of reasoning.” Luo Ze walked a few steps back and forth before Luo Wei’s desk. “Actually, I just think it’s annoying. I really want to be like big brother and just go out bringing the troops. That would be the life!”
Luo Wei only smiled bitterly. If they didn’t have Luo Ze’s troops, then the prince and their Luo family in the capital would have no troops that they could trust completely. Marching out as a general? Even if the Crown Prince ascended to the throne in the future, he would not let Luo Ze leave the capital.
“Why aren’t you speaking anymore?” Luo Ze asked.
“Second Brother still has to do a good job,” Luo Wei said, “The affairs this time concern the Imperial family; there must be no accidents.”
“Relax,” Luo Ze reached out and lightly scratched Luo Wei’s nose. “Your Second Brother still has the bit of skill to do this.”
“Yeah,” Luo Wei clutched at his own nose and leaned back, avoiding Luo Ze’s hand, saying, “Second Brother can kill enemies in battle, how could he not take care of guard work? Little brother believes in Second Brother.”
“Your face is still so cold.” Luo Ze felt upset after touching Luo Wei’s cold skin. He himself had stayed in this room for only a short while and was already sweating, but Luo Wei’s body had not a trace of warmth.
“I’m not cold,” Luo Wei said. “This room is so warm.”
“You have to eat more,” Luo Ze felt Luo Wei’s hand again, thinking that it felt like an ice cube. “If you keep on going like this, your body won’t get better. Then what’s to be done?”
“I eat. How do I not eat?” Luo Wei looked at Luo Ze and smiled, “Wait until the weather is warm and I’ll get better.”
“During the New Year, the family will make Buddhist arrangements,” Luo Ze said. “Mother said it’s to help you get rid of bad luck. This year, let’s finish with the medicine, and definitely not be so unlucky next year.”
“As long as mother and second sister-in-law don’t get tired, it’s okay to make those Buddhist arrangements to bless our family, so that next year we can be peaceful without any troubles.”
“This kid,” Luo Ze looked at Luo Wei seriously. “If I knew earlier that you would experience these disasters after becoming so reasonable, I would rather you always stay foolish. Eldest brother and I could protect you for a lifetime, no matter what.”
“Second Brother!” Luo Wei cried out at Luo Ze, but some emotions could not be expressed in words.
“In a moment drink up the ginseng soup,” Luo Ze continued, “drink medicine before going to bed, and don’t have Wei Lan tag along with you for everything. You just won’t listen to the doctor. Dad always says your thoughts are too heavy. Xiao Wei, what could be bothering you? A dad who is prime minister and two brothers who are generals can’t protect you?”
“I’m not thinking about anything.” Luo Wei lowered his head. “I’ll make sure to get better.”
“Then just listen to me. Stay at home and get better, and don’t mind outside matters,” Luo Ze said. “Today what mom said was right. Once you go outside, we all worry.”
“Then the Western Mountains hunt?”
“With your health like this, can you go to the Western Mountains and stand in the wind?” Luo Ze immediately replied. “Second brother will listen to you, engage in everything carefully, and report everything to Grand Prince Xin. Don’t think anymore and go to sleep early, en?”
“Okay.” Luo Wei had no interest in hunting, but his second brother was taking on the job so he made further considerations. With the hunt being an Imperial affair, armed military escorts would also be present to guard. As long as Second Brother was careful and worked hard, there shouldn’t be any accidents.
“So you’ll obediently stay home tomorrow?”
“Didn’t Second Brother want to know how many ladies were going to the hunt?”
In Chinese books there’s a lot of XX said: “Dialogue.”
I chose to keep that sentence structure in some parts, though I know the original translator did away with it completely.
If you see quadruple dashes, I am trying to overcome WordPress turning my grammatically correct double dashes into single dashes without transforming them into an elongated single dash. Ignore if you see it