Until Next Time

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Until Next Time To Be Continued
Yan Alley Night
Shangshu Teahouse
Yan Inn
Shangshu Pass
The day before leaving Shu for the capital, Liang Xun finally has a chance at a date with Ning Ciqiu for tea and a play in the mountains. Meanwhile, Du Yaoye, Zuo Le and others are about to set off on their own respective journeys.
<Background 1>
[Shen Lou the boatman walks through the alleys of Shangshu.]
Boatman Still a little chilly, so early in the morning.
Typical of Shangshu's weather. Cool now, hot and hotter by noon. It's a fickle one.
??? There is rule to heat and cold. I presume Shangshu's folk have long since accustomed.
Boatman Indeed. But seeing the rain come harder lately, I'm worried the weather's about to turn.
Best it isn't some blistering cold or heat, so the people have a little time to adapt.
[The one Shen is talking with is revealed to be the Grand Tutor himself.]
Grand Tutor The season is here. Shocking turns come as granted.
Boatman, may you ferry me?
Boatman By all means. Where to?
Grand Tutor Across the river.
Boatman Fine by me. How should this river of yours be crossed, in your view?
Which route? Are you hurrying or taking your time?
Grand Tutor What difference is there?
Boatman If you're in a rush, and time is short, I'll ferry fast. We'll reach the other shore without much effort.
Grand Tutor So what if I am not?
Boatman Then we'll have to fix up some wine and sides before we cross.
The wine's warmed aboard the boat, and we come from upstream to the crossing, staying to the side as we drift down. You can gaze on the city, and see the fields being planted. Fine scenery.
Grand Tutor Not half-bad.
Boatman Then so it'll be. I'll warm the wine now.
Grand Tutor You're deft at business.
Boatman So this line of work goes. Always a need to play it by ear.
Few sirs like you would turn down viewing more of old Shangshu City. If it's not for the city, then it's for the people.
Grand Tutor Quite.
The people deserve to be viewed. If not, then it's been a wasted journey.
I imagine Liang Xun has informed you–he is to go with me this evening to return to the capital. The way out of Shangshu will be led by you.
Boatman He did inform me.
Don't blame us. Mr. Liang's leaving in a rush here. Us folk can't help but be worried.
Our Magistrate... As good as a parent to us, we say, but he's still young in the end. Resembles the nephews of our own at times. There's concern to be had.
Grand Tutor Liang Xun has the talent, and the resolve. Should he withstand, he will be famed and recognized.
Boatman And what if he doesn't?
–*sigh* No, never mind, I shouldn't ask. If you want to see Shangshu, just come with me.
Only shame is, young Lee's still searching for someone right now. He'll be hard-pressed to meet Mr. Liang this evening if he wants, I think.
<Background 2>
[Ning Ciqiu prepares some tea...]
Miss Ning 'Tis still quite cool. 'Tis lucky we are not cold ourselves, with the tea warm.
Official affairs inundate you, my Lord. What brings you here so early?
[...as Liang Xun walks in...]
Liang Xun I agreed to watch the play with you.
[...and sits beside her.]
Liang Xun Cloak in some more layers. Mind the chill.
Miss Ning When did we agree this? All I had said was to come if you were free.
Liang Xun And I'm free today.
Miss Ning Liar. Your work is surely a mountain of bother, with the Grand Tutor so urgent in handing it over to you... Could it be, my Lord, you did not sleep last night?
Liang Xun *cough* I did get a little shuteye.
You're also early to rise today, Miss Ning.
Miss Ning I guessed the headstrong Liang would come at first light despite all exhortation, and so was awaiting you the whole time.
Liang Xun That. Hm. I...
Miss Ning Your tea cup is empty. Pass it to me.
[Liang pour some tea into his cup before handing it to Ning.]
Liang Xun Thank you.
Miss Ning 'Tis but a cup of tea. Need we such formalities between us?
'Tis pleasant, to be able to sit here in this mountain, drinking tea, shaking oneself awake.
The refreshments at this shop are quite fine too... the shaobing, sesame cake, and–
Liang Xun Sweet fritters.
You've lauded this place before.
Miss Ning Ah, and you remembered?
Liang Xun Mm. Being that you're fond, I take note.
Miss Ning Everything of Shangshu is fine, save the slight strength in flavor. Lucky that the pastries by and large are tender and sweet still. They fit my palate.
*sigh* Your estate stews were very spicy at first, my Lord. Though, they have been considerably better since.
I could not pick up my chopsticks before needing to seek water. How very sorry for me.
Liang Xun The estate has spice-remedying decoction available at all times.
Miss Ning, your home...
Miss Ning The waterways of the south. We are no great spice eaters.
Liang Xun I apologize for the trouble.
Miss Ning What matter is it? We all must adapt at some point.
Liang Xun So you say, though it's not so easily done.
Miss Ning 'Tis not hard, should you intend to.
We all must adapt at some point.
Liang Xun Verily.
Miss Ning You have mentioned you are native to Shangshu, my Lord?
Liang Xun I am.
I left home at an early age, and only returned in recent years. You know as much, Miss Ning.
Miss Ning I have heard you make mention.
Is it then that you met your Lungmen friend, in your period away?
Liang Xun Yes.
I knew nothing back then, left to forge my own way, made no shortage of friends, believed the spirit of youth could conquer everything, accomplish anything...
I did plenty of clownishly ridiculous, foolish things.
Miss Ning 'Tis no foolish thing to make friends.
My Lord, the friend you have made is a fine one.
Liang Xun ...I was simply lucky to.
Miss Ning Were it not for such urgent affairs, 'twould only be right we bid your friend on a true, proper tour of Shangshu, being the hosts that we should.
'Twould also be more chance to hear some anecdotes of your past, my Lord. Who knows how different you are these days?
Liang Xun I have never changed.
Maybe I have changed some. But...
Miss Ning Hm?
Liang Xun What I set out to do, for these common peoples... has never changed.
Miss Ning ......
Liang Xun When the Grand Tutor last evening proposed I accompany him to the capital... I didn't want to accept, at first.
Miss Ning You denounce me for accepting in your place?
Liang Xun No. I hardly could.
I should not have hesitated in the first place. I should be thanking you, Miss Ning.
Miss Ning So long as you do not blame me. I understand you are uneasy for Shangshu, as can others, but the Grand Tutor's word is a different story.
He keeps no mediocrity for company. What he assigns are but the most rugged, hard-fought opportunities.
I believe, should my perception of you not be faulty, that if you had refused in a moment of hesitation, you would surely regret it in time.
Liang Xun I understand... I apologize for worrying you.
Miss Ning ......
Liang Xun Miss Ning...?
Miss Ning Ah, no, nothing. I just suddenly imagined...
If you had then and there earnestly, unreservedly agreed to leave, I fear I would perhaps have been quite angry.
Liang Xun Ahem. You're joking, Miss Ning.
Miss Ning I am certainly not joking.
Liang Xun *cough* *cough* *cough*.
Miss Ning In so little time, the sun has come up.
My Lord, are you enjoying this play?
Liang Xun It's not bad.
Miss Ning Then shall you be descending the mountain sooner?
Liang Xun No.
I'll watch another while.
Miss Ning, watch another while.
<Background 3>
[Du Yaoye is arguing with Zheng Qingyue the innkeeper.]
Miss Du Okay, come on, Dad! Stop looking at it!
Why? What's even the point? It's just a travel itinerary! Me and the guys already hashed it out! We're leaving once everything's packed!
And I have a whole ROOM of stuff that still needs packing, so!
Innkeeper Zheng What's the rush? Let me look over it again...
You're a group of young people. You rush your decisions. That's a recipe for disaster.
Miss Du What's wrong with young people? You were all young once, right? Didn't you go all over when you were young, Dad?
Innkeeper Zheng Is that a fair comparison?
Without anyone to accompany you, will you be sure of which ways you can go, and which you can't?
For this long a journey in this season, do you even know what you should bring, and what you shouldn't?
Miss Du Dad!
Times have changed! Stop lecturing me about your old days!
Innkeeper Zheng Yaoye! Listen, there's not much your dad can tell you, so...
If you're sure you're going to Yumen, then go. I couldn't stop you all anyway. Avoiding the path we laid out for you might just be for the better...
Miss Du ......
Dad, suppose, um, and I'm just picturing...
Suppose we don't run our inn here, you've still got a couple cousins. Have you considered going with us to Yumen?
Innkeeper Zheng Yaoye, ah...
Miss Du Ugh, dad, I'm just wondering out loud, I know it's not gonna happen! You can just listen or something...
Innkeeper Zheng Yaoye.
Miss Du ...*sigh*.
Innkeeper Zheng This inn was meant to be left to you. If you're not taking it, we may as well close up shop sooner rather than later.
If you want to set up your own business, I won't stop you. I trust you to have thought it through. But I still need to tell you a thing or two, and I don't want you to think I'm prattling.
Miss Du Dad...
Innkeeper Zheng You're leading all those youths. They trust you, follow you. You say times have changed... You're right, times have changed, but this sort of thing doesn't change no matter what the times are.
You step forward, and they're there all at once, so no matter how difficult it gets in future, you can't back down. No matter how tough, how exhausting, you have to bear it. Do you hear me?
Miss Du ......
I know.
I... I know, Dad.
Innkeeper Zheng ...*sigh*. Alright, take the itinerary. I've kept you off of some of the tougher roads. If you can stick to the highways, do so. Never revisit those same muddy paths we waded through.
Miss Du No need to worry.
Innkeeper Zheng It's hard, not worrying.
I have a worry, right this moment.
Miss Du Go on.
Innkeeper Zheng Yaoye, you're not young anymore. When you go to Yumen, can you possibly try and bring back a decent young man...?
Miss Du Stop, stop!
Dad! That is SO stupid to worry about!!
Innkeeper Zheng How is it stupid?
Miss Du It just is!
Ugh, jeez, I'm not talking to you anymore. I need to go to Mr. Liang's place anyway.
Innkeeper Zheng What do you want Mr. Liang for?
Miss Du I'm not the one looking for him, it's that stupid Lee guy!
Innkeeper Zheng If Lee can't find him, Mr. Liang's not likely to be at the estate. What use would you have for going?
Miss Du That makes sense. Yeah, okay! He's just using the same trick again to dupe me! I'm gonna go find him and GET MINE!
[Du runs off the inn.]
Innkeeper Zheng *sigh*...
You proud little girl. When will you finally settle down...?
[Unbeknownst to Zheng, Zuo Le and Leizi had watched the argument while having a meal.]
Zuo Le ......
Leizi Do not pry into others' domestics.
Zuo Le Your concern is unnecessary.
Lin Qingyan, what do you mean by this?
Leizi Eat your food.
Zuo Le You know I'm not referring to that.
You were waiting here from sun-up, so you could hold me from visiting those three. You have to have some reason for me.
Leizi I told you, I'll go with you.
Zuo Le Lin Qingyan!
Leizi You're making a scene. Look at yourself.
I did not make this trip in my capacity with the Central Judicial Office. Disregarding our positions, what should you be calling me?
Zuo Le ......
Leizi Are you forgetting the rule?
Zuo Le ...Auntie.
Leizi Good.
Zuo Le Why do you always bring this out to stifle me? It's not as if you're an honest relative. You're just relying on the friendship between the Lins and my dad, and being a generation older.
Just why did the Tianshi Bureaus have you make this trip?
Leizi For the common people, naturally.
Zuo Le How nice for the common people.
If that's the case, will you really just ignore... will you really just carry on like this?
Leizi The Grand Tutor has made his judgment. I may simply await orders.
But you, Zuo Le.
Zuo Le ......
Leizi Within the Sui Regulator, you're still green. What is concealed behind this trip to Shangshu is not simple, and as it seems now, you have no awareness of the inside details.
Dispatched yet barely cognizant. Ridiculous! Who called you here?
Zuo Le No one sent me. I volunteered myself.
What? Don't you believe me?
Leizi I do.
I believe you volunteered yourself, but I also believe there are strange actors behind this.
Zuo Le This is my first time hearing that the impartial, incorruptible, honest, forthright Lin Qingyan of the Central Judicial Office has learned to speculate on the bureaucracy's murky secrets.
Don't rumors say you're sick of giving those sorts of shameless busybodies the time of day? That if anyone tries to wag on at you, you shock their brain numb?
This, right now, is far from your style.
Leizi You have no need to point fingers at my style of affairs.
I'm entrusted with your care. When things concern you, it's only natural I exercise some caution.
Zuo Le ...Tch.
Leizi Did you click your tongue at me?
Zuo Le I did not. You misheard, Auntie.
Leizi ......
Once this matter is through, you should return with me to the capital as well.
Zuo Le But...
Leizi General Zuo desires it.
Zuo Le ......
Understood. I will accompany you back.
<Background 2>
Miss Ning Assistant Minister of Rites... 'tis not a post that participates too much in government affairs.
Did you ever hear, my Lord, how this position of mine came to be?
Liang Xun I'd like to.
Miss Ning You rose upon your own excellence; this I cannot compare to.
The Ning family... 'tis major in a sense. Sordid that its ancestors were, its descendants did progress. Generations accumulated propriety, connections and assets, and so things passed down.
My father's father was an official, first rank, assiduous for quite some decades. You should know him even if I did not tell you his name.
Liang Xun ......
Miss Ning I would only be ready to say so to you, my Lord, lest it seem I was flaunting.
Liang Xun Hardly.
Miss Ning... you are a fine one.
Miss Ning I knew you would not think so.
I have told you, too, that I rank seventh within my own generation.
Liang Xun Good.
Miss Ning My father's generation sought otherwise, as did the one below. My oldest cousin is on my father's side, ten or so years my senior, and has long settled himself down.
As my grandfather prepared to retire from officialdom, so I was at junior vigor's peak, and became drawn into a smuggling and embezzlement case. By a fluke I caught a string of thieves, and the documents landed on my grandfather's desk the following day.
Liang Xun Your ability excels, Miss Ning.
Miss Ning Pleasantry.
Liang Xun I would never. It is my honesty.
Miss Ning Then I will believe you.
My grandfather called me to his study alone; we conversed of little in particular, before he asked me this one question.
He asked: "Ciqiu, would you be willing to give your ability and learning for the country, the people, and for the realm?"
And I replied...
Liang Xun ...You would offer your life.
Miss Ning Without hesitance.
Liang Xun Your spirit is bold, Miss Ning.
Miss Ning Enough, now. The story ends here.
My Lord, your tea is cold.
Liang Xun It's still somewhat warm.
Miss Ning But I notice your hands are cold now, my Lord. If you would be willing to have half this cloak back from me, 'tis not out of the question we could steep a freshly brewed pot.
Liang Xun Health is crucial. Wear it well. Don't take it off.
Miss Ning I am fine. If you do not believe, shall we test... if I am warmer than you?
[Ning hold her hands close to Liang's.]
Liang Xun My hands are cold. Don't be chilled, Miss Ning.
Miss Ning Aiya!
Liang Xun After today, I don't know when we'll find the chance to meet again.
Take more care of your health, Miss Ning. Don't let the cold tempt you.
Should you ever wish to view the flowers in future, and don't deem it too far-flung, then you needn't take it upon yourself. Have someone take a letter, and send them to me to plant.
Miss Ning ......
Liang Xun Miss Ning?
Miss Ning Right, ah, um...
[After hesitating for a moment...]
Miss Ning Well... Given you speak so, I will be straightforward too.
My Lord, how much longer are you going to keep that ribboned jewelry case in your pocket?
Liang Xun ...Ahem. This is...
Miss Ning Is...?
What, my Lord? Could you have possibly intended to give that to another?
<Background 4>
[Meanwhile, Lee, Taihe, and Shang Zhong the pole-carrier watches the romantic scene between Liang and Ning from afar.]
Lee ......
Ugh, can't stand it.
Pole-Carrier We shouldn't have taken you to him.
Taihe Shouldn't have.
Won't you show yourself?
Lee Wouldn't work, showing myself now.
Their whole back-and-forth's more of a work of art than any stage play.
Who knew old Liang would... *sigh* Never we mind.
No... That won't do. I do mind!
Who knew after a decade and change apart, Liang would turn out like this!
Pole-Carrier A decade and change apart. It's not uncommon.
Lee It gets to me.
At least there's still tea to drink, and a play to watch.
Well, Liang Xun, you owe me another now.
[Lee looks dejected.]
Lee *sigh*...
One last cup of wine with an old friend really is difficult to swing.