The guard who stopped them was about to step forward when he was elbowed by the head guard next to him. After a pause, he realised something and let the procession pass without another word.
There were many oirans here who were both rich and beautiful. A tiny complaint by anyone of them would be enough to ruin these puny guards.
Upon leaving the western gate of the city, one kilometre south was the graveyard. It was currently winter and the place was scattered with ancient trees and vines. The sudden arrival of this crowd of beauties added some life to this deathly place.
Li Chengfeng led everyone in the burial of Liu Zhixi. She was laid to rest at her grave. When the first shovel of soil was scattered on her coffin, everyone’s eyes reddened. Many covered their faces to wipe their tears.
When the burial was over, Liu Sumei instructed her servant to bring a guzheng over. Facing the newly set tombstone, she said, “Sister Zhixi, we were all too afraid to collect your body and bring you to your final resting place. I hope you’ll forgive us, will you?”
Liu Sumei plucked the strings lightly and spoke in a gentle voice, “Zhixi, we have been helpless and could not help you investigate the case. I’m sorry your truth has not been found. All we can do is be with you on the last step of your journey, I hope you can forgive us. Here is a song for you.”
Liu Sumei and Liu Zhixi had always been rivals in terms of beauty and talent. Their rivalry was famous across Cheng’an City, yet upon Liu Zhixi’s untimely death, all Liu Sumei felt was emptiness and inexplicable sorrow. She played the guzheng gracefully and sang ‘Hairpin Phoenix’.
The world is fickle, its people are cruel, twilight shower bids fragile blossoms adieu.
The dawn breeze blows, my tearstains dry. I wish I could write my feelings to you but all I do is mutter to myself as I lean on the railings. It is tough, tough, tough!
To each their own, today is not what yesterday was, my sickly soul sways like the ropes of a swing.
The cold horn sounds as the night comes to its end. I hold back my tears and feign a smile, for I am terrified if they ask.
[T/L Note: I’ve done my best to translate this, but you should look up Hairpin Phoenix (钗头凤·世情薄), a poem by Tang Wan. Such a sad, dramatic, emotionally complicated poem. I love it.]
When her song ended, all the girls were sobbing hard.
Li Chengfeng held a cup of wine high up and came to the front of the grave. Patting Liu Sumei’s shoulder, he said, “Please excuse me, Sumei, I’d like to have a few words with Miss Zhixi.”
She got up, bowed, then carried her guzheng to stand aside. Her song had immersed the crowd into a deep melancholy. They all looked at Li Chengfeng as if waiting for him to recite an earth-shatteringly sad poem.
However, his first sentence was something too unpoetic. “Miss Zhixi, I know you didn’t like me.”
The girls looked at each other, slightly disappointed but no one looked down on him anymore.
He continued, “I know, Miss Zhixi. A soul as pure as jade will never like a pile of dirty bones like me.”
The girls sighed, thinking: if only Miss Zhixi could see this today. Would she change her mind? Would she stop liking all the filthy rich men and fall for this poor hopeless romantic?
They held their breaths and focused to listen to Li Chengfeng’s words. “The first time I met you, you were on stage and I was watching just in front. All though we were only a few metres apart, you were a celebrity and I was the scum of society. I felt like you were high up in the heavens while I was left in the dust. People say that I, Li Chengfeng, am a reckless, empty flirt but no one knows how careful and nervous I was in front of you.”
“That day, when Silver Hairpin suddenly brought me to meet you, I did guess that something was up. But I did not dare think of it, for all I wanted was to see you! I shouldn’t have come when I heard no one was coming to collect your body and lay your soul to rest, yet I came anyway. All because I wanted to see you one last time.”
Although these weren’t poems, it was still an emotional speech. Even a deaf man would have felt something, let alone these girls.
The girls were all touched to the core. They couldn’t help but wonder: if they died, would there be a lover to lay their body to rest and recite such emotional words over their grave?
The usually practical, realistic girls were instantly converted into romantics.
Li Chengfeng took a deep breath, then slowly poured the glass of wine into Liu Zhixi’s grave. In a low voice, he announced, “Miss Zhixi, may you rest in peace! I hope we’ll meet again in our next lives!”
Tears flowed. None of the girls could speak as tey sobbed, even the usually cold Liu Sumei was crying.
They watched as Li Chengfeng stood silently in front of the grave without a word. After a while, they all stepped forward to pour their glasses of wine into the grave, then step aside as if waiting for something. However, a while passed and Li Chengfeng still hadn’t spoken a word. They gave up on waiting then turned to leave.
They had just taken two steps when they heard a voice from behind. “I have a flask of wine…”
The girls stopped and turned. They did not understand what was going on. They didn’t expect him to then burst out in a poem.
“I have a flask of wine, but it is not enough to comfort my sorrows. I smile a drunken smile, yet I dread when I wake. I look up but I cannot find her, so I fiddle with the candle. I turn around to see, a candle-lit beauty.”
The girls were stunned by this sudden recitation. They suddenly felt his sorrow and thought about all the unfortunate circumstances in their lives.
Liu Sumei was crying as she looked deeply at Li Chengfeng. She turned to her servant, who was crying hard. “Let’s go back.”
The servant looked at Li Chengfeng longingly. “Miss, we’re going back just like that?”
Liu Sumei smiled bitterly. “He’s a good man, but he’s not mine. We’ll just be sadder if we stay.” She then wiped her tears and left briskly.
Everyone did the same when she left and the graveyard quietened down.
Li Chengfeng and Zhao Xiaobao, who was wiping his tears silently, stood before the grave. With one final sigh, he turned to leave.
The crowded grave suddenly emptied and returned to its silence. Only the cawing of wild crows echoed. A breeze blew as paper money fluttered in the air. They landed strewn across her grave.
Sometime later, the soil at the grave shuddered. Then, the soil seemed to lift upwards until a hand suddenly appeared, then a shoulder, then an entire human crawled out of the grave!
It was a woman so beautiful even soil could not cover her beauty-- Liu Zhixi!