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Dage,

I have so many things to tell you, I wouldn’t know where to start. You do hear me well! You will think I have lost my mind, and I cannot fault you for that as I myself don’t know what’s been going on in the past few days. I feel as if I were walking through a dream and might wake up at any moment to find things haven’t changed at all.

We only just came back from Yiling. Shufu was to go for a few days to look into a case of fierce corpses that had been plaguing the border, and since he didn’t want to leave us on our own he decided to take me and A-Zhan with him. “A learning experience of sorts”, he said, when A-Zhan is not even old enough to hold a sword properly. You will tell me that there are always fierce corpses to be found close to the Burial Mounds, and that such matters should be handled by Qishan. I suspect Shufu used the night hunt as an excuse to get us out of Gusu.

But this is not why I’m writing to you. The case was handled as swiftly as could be, with all corpses put to rest; as you know by now, no amount of purification will subdue the resentful energy roaming through Yiling.

On the last day, Shufu took us to walk around the town before we had to go back, and I must have been distracted, for one moment A-Zhan was by my side, and the other he was gone.

That alone was enough to make me almost lose my mind. Shufu and I panicked, and hurried to look for him and ask around if someone had seen a little boy. Several minutes passed without news of him, but before I could lose hope of never seeing my baby brother again, he came back. And he wasn’t alone.

It turns out that A-Zhan found a homeless boy being chased by dogs on the way back, and saved him from them before he could be badly bitten. The boy was so grateful, not only did he latch on him, but he was met with equal fervour by A-Zhan, who refused to let him go. It was a pitiful sight, and my heart wrenched at the thought of leaving the boy on the streets to fight strays for food and shelter.

Shufu visibly hesitated as well. But he seemed to change his mind upon looking at the boy, and asked him if he had a name. He froze when the young one told him his name was Wei Ying.

Shufu told me some time later that he knew Wei Ying’s parents, from when they had both come to Gusu for their studies. Did you know he was the child of Sect Leader Jiang’s right-hand man, Wei Changze, and of Cangse Sanren, the disciple of the famed Baoshan Sanren? The two were rumored to have been missing for some time, and lost their lives during a night hunt but the cause of death remains a mystery. It may be unfilial of me to say, but I wonder if Shufu would have refused had A-Ying given him a different name. Thankfully, I shall not have to ever think about this possibility again.

Shufu decided to take him with us. It is perhaps the best decision he could have ever met. A-Zhan didn’t appear to be willing to let go, and A-Ying looked so miserable that I wouldn’t have had it in me to refuse. Although in fairness, this was all A-Zhan’s doing. You may tell me I am too soft on him, but we both know you are no better as far as Huaisang is concerned.

Speaking of which — A-Zhan was behaving in a rather odd way a few days ago, more precisely after our visit to A-Niang. You must be wondering what exactly, is odd in A-Zhan’s case — and don’t think I haven’t forgotten your jabs, Mingjue. He asked Shufu if it would not be possible to have a Wen doctor assist our healers with A-Niang’s illness.

I’m sure you must have paused at these words, and reread them again, to find there was no change. Can you believe it? I hardly can myself. I know you will disapprove, and find this decision foolish, but I can promise you that Shufu and Fuqin mediated before coming to an agreement. We may be putting too much faith on this, but by some miracle they decided it would be unfair to allow A-Niang to suffer as much as she had. It is a small mercy of sorts, I suppose...

They have written to Sect Leader Wen, who somehow agreed to lend us his only niece and ward — one Wen Qing. She is young, only slightly older than you and I, and yet she is said to be a prodigy, and the best healer of her generation. Wen-guniang is to travel to Gusu and stay for a few days, alongside her father and younger brother. They are as much children as we are, and it would do us good to encourage good intersect relations.

I didn’t even know A-Zhan was aware of A-Niang’s sickness. I say this, but really I should not doubt his perspicacity. He may be young, but he is much smarter than he looks. It sometimes feels as if my brother were an entirely different person. Some days it seems as if he is growing so fast — much too fast for my liking. I feel powerless in such moments, as if no matter what I do I will never be able to protect him from the world. What does it say of me and my ability to be a good brother?

But then A-Ying came to the sect and I do realize that I have been thinking about it too much once more. With A-Ying here, I have nothing to worry about. A-Zhan is as he has always been, but he acts more like his age now, and has not left A-Ying’s side since they met.

It seems like things are beginning to look up, and I couldn’t possibly ask for more. I know you will say that any hope I entertain may very well be in vain. I won’t allow myself to be greedy. At least, not beyond reasonable. But there are so few things as of late for me to hold onto, and even less that make sense. At the end of the day, we can still only see A-Niang once every month, and Fuqin remains in seclusion. He did, however, leave the Hanshi for the first time after Shufu announced that he was adopting a boy into the sect. And I now have two adorable little brothers to love and cherish!

I will confess that it leaves… an odd taste in my mouth, that Fuqin should leave where the business of others is concerned, but not that of his sons’ wellbeing. Nevertheless, I won’t fault him for it. Knowing my own heart, I would have done the same, and beyond, had Wangji done the same.

How odd. I just saw him passing under my window, A-Ying trailing behind him not far away. I smiled and waved at them from my seat by the library window. A-Ying waved back effusively, as he always does, but A-Zhan only nodded and looked at me in such a fixed manner.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought there was hatred in his eyes.


Yours,

Lan Xichen.


A-Niang,

I hope this letter finds you well.

Uncle says my letters are improving, and has allowed me to begin writing to you. It is not forbidden for me to write to you, long as I don’t go out of my way to deliver them myself and keep from writing about confidential matters.

I’m afraid I got a little cut on my fingers while sharpening my training sword, and that it has stained the paper. The head healer smiled at me when I told her what happened, and her blacksmith husband laughed when I told him as much. They laughed at me and told me to take it easy and not run after silly grown-ups; they didn’t take it seriously when I told them I had done no such thing.

A-Ying took it seriously. To the point that I thought he was exaggerating, but he was genuinely distressed to see me bleed. More so, I think, because he was present when the incident happened. Some of the disciples and elders sneered when they saw how close we were, and how I was allowing A-Ying to touch me. But only A-Ying tried to bandage my wound, clumsily but with much solemnity, even though it was superficial at best.

Qing-jie criticized the wrapping, but congratulated him on his thoughtfulness, as the wound could have been infected and gotten much worse. She threatened to have me amputated herself if I didn’t listen to her. A-Ying jumped to my defence, and Wen Ning reassured him that she didn’t mean it. For all that he says, I know she would still be capable of going through with it. Please don’t tell her off for saying such things, even though I am told you are the first to enjoy such outbursts from Qing-jie.

Shufu and Xiongzhang still think I am too young to take up the sword, especially after I got the cut, but I have much improved and our head disciple agreed that I could begin to use the ones made of steel, instead of the wooden ones. There was no harm done, he said, and it would give me practice for the day I would receive my own, in the years to come. I have an idea of what I could name it.

And before you ask, no. I won’t name it after Xiongzhang the way I did with Wangji. A-Ying laughed too when I told him, but like you, it was not in an unkind way. Shufu learned some time ago that his courtesy name is Wuxian. Had we met earlier, I’m sure I would have stolen his name instead. It’s not quite the word I’m looking for, but for now it will do.

A-Ying said that sending you pictures would make you happy until our next visit, because he used to do so for his parents and it never failed to make them smile. He is very talented, much more so than I am, and I daresay even better than Xiongzhang. He helped me paint the landscape in this letter. We had to go high up the mountain to oversee the lake separating us from the border; it is some ways from the Gentian house, so you won’t be able to see it from your window, but I hope it will please you.


With love,

Lan Zhan.



Jiang-zongzhu,

We are acquainted well enough with each other for you to know that I am not in the habit of beating around the bush, and I won’t insult you by waxing poetic about the situation. Lying is forbidden in the Cloud Recesses, and while this letter will cross its borders, I will not deny that I have many reasons to refuse to hand Wei Ying over to you.

I will not deny either that many of said reasons for wishing to keep Wei Ying with us are in no small part selfish. Selfish for one, because my youngest nephew, Lan Zhan has grown very attached to Wei Ying, to an extent that none of us could have possibly foreseen. I have taken in the boy as my son. For several months now he has been Lan Ying, courtesy name Wuxian, and thus known as the boys’ cousin and my brother and sister-in-law’s nephew, but I have good reason to believe that Wei Ying’s relation to them will come to be deeper in the future, once he and Wangji are both of age.

You know of the Lans’ propensity to love. I’m afraid that my nephew simply cannot be parted from Wei Ying, which is why Sect Leader Lan and myself have decided that it is best that the boys not be separated.

Simply put, I cannot vouch for what my nephew would do if he should be kept away from A-Ying. I would not suggest trying to do such a thing by force. No one will come to Sect Leader Jiang’s assistance if you do. My eldest nephew, Lan Xichen is just as fond of the boy, although not to the same extent, but his feelings are just as sincere. He is already acutely aware of his responsibility as a brother, and I am equally unable to surmise his protectiveness towards his brother and cousin.

Secondly, because I myself have come to feel affection for the boy. You speak as if you had Wei Ying’s best interests in mind, and nevertheless I can’t find it in me to believe you. Don’t think I don’t know why Wei Changze and Cangse Sanren left Yunmeng. You may call me as hypocritical as you like, but unlike you I am capable of taking a refusal for what it is and walk away. To drive the woman you loved away after attempting to force your feelings on her, and forsaking another without giving her the respect she is due is despicable.
To also compromise your sworn brotherhood, without a care for its consequences nor the honor of all parties involved, shows how much of a fool you are. Even Jin-zongzhu would have been more astute. Will you truly have me go to my son — my son — and ask him to give me back his robes, and his forehead ribbon, and chase him away from the sect and the people he loves and cares for? Will you have me insult their memory and my friendship with them by refusing their only son a home and a family?

That is not to mention the people that surround you. Can you look me in the eye and tell me that your wife, the Lady of Lotus Pier will accept to have the child of Cangse Sanren under your roof, without a fight? The very son of the woman whom you once loved, whose only merit in the eyes of the cultivation world is as your rumoured mistress and not as a disciple of Baoshan Sanren and one of the most talented cultivators of her generation? Can you promise me that your elders, and the people you are meant to care and protect will do the same for A-Ying should he be taken to your sect? I know what you are capable of, and I know that even if you take him in, the boy will be given more care and consideration than your children ever would. Your children are young, and from what I have seen and heard, promise to do better for their new generation than we ever did.

As such, your children may come to Cloud Recesses when they are of age, and they may befriend my son, and become sworn siblings, should it be their desire to do so in the future. I give them leave to come and go as they please. But mark my words: should I suspect that there is an ulterior motive to their visit, I will show no mercy. Neither will my brother, nor my sister.

Wei Ying — Lan Ying — is my son now, and will be treated as such. Not as the son of a servant or the son of a woman you once felt for, but as a child of Gusu Lan, treated with all the respect one can give a Young Master of his stature. He is already well appreciated by his peers and elders, which isn’t surprising knowing who his parents were. Only Wei Changze and Cangse Sanren would have given birth to a boy with such immensurable promise and a heart of gold.


With my best regards,

Acting Sect Leader Lan.


Dear Jingfei,

Thank you again for having us at Koi Tower the past week. Your home had never looked more beautiful — and believe me when I say I never thought such words would come out of my mouth! The children and I have made it back safely to the Cloud Recesses, they to their quarters and I to my own, as you now know too well. But do not worry about me, dear friend. Maiden Wen and her father has taken such good care of me, and continue to do so diligently.

It’s good to know Lanling Jin has you at the helm. The sect would fall if not for you, dear friend. It is only sheer cowardice keeping all those pompous Lanling Jin gentlemen from openly admitting it. How you endure this daily, I wonder. I am thankful we didn’t have to catch a glimpse of your husband during our visit. I haven’t missed Jin Guangshan since our days at the Cloud Recesses, and few things seem to have changed since then.

How unfortunate it is that this little boy who came at the end of Jin Zixuan’s party was nowhere to be found afterwards. He seemed to be in such great distress, even A-Zhan and A-Ying picked up on it. Has Sect Leader Jin said anything on the matter? I know you have come to turn a blind eye to such inconveniences, and that this may just be a similar case. I cannot help it if I worry a little, considering… but if you deem the situation to be unimportant, then I will let it go.

A-Ying found a pearl lying by the stairs when we went to explore Lanling. A pretty thing, even though it was of the cheap kind, those one would buy to entertain the children while they know not to swallow little trinkets. I didn’t think much of it after A-Zhan told him to let it go, as it was dirty. A-Ying didn’t mind after A-Zhan promised to buy him a much prettier pearl, although he has more interest for earrings and ribbons.

Yu Ziyuan isn’t terribly happy with me for some reason. Who am I kidding, we all know why she doesn’t tolerate me at the moment. If she asks, do please let her know that my youngest son, Second Master Lan Wangji of Gusu Lan, is happily engaged to Third Master Wei Ying, courtesy name Wei Wuxian of Gusu Lan sect, and that his feelings are fully reciprocated. Please do also let it slip that they shall give me many grandchildren in the form of black and white rabbits, and have already begun to do so in the form of a pair currently living on the outskirts of my son’s Jingshi. They’re not pets; they were already in Gusu to stay, and they are the sweetest little things.

Jesting aside, mark my words. I give her leave to insult me all she likes, but I dare her to say one word about my sons and nephew. You don’t hear me spewing lies about her family, nor berating her son for getting banned by all the matchmakers in Yunmeng. And the boy is not even fifteen! I fear for what will come to him when he enters the Cloud Recesses next year, if Yu Ziyuan doesn’t find a way to ostracize Yunmeng again before the entire cultivation world…

Ah, but let us not be consumed by resentment. One more rule, I can’t remember which number exactly. Even Wei Ying knows better than I do, and he is the most forgetful person I know. I will ask him later, if only for the pleasure of seeing Lan Qiren spit blood.


From the Gentian House,

Madam Lan Chang.


Wei-xiong,

It does seem like miracles happen — have you heard of the latest news? Wen Ruohan, gravely injured on a night hunt, and his eldest son, Wen Xu dead! It seems like this is the only thing everyone has been speaking of in the past few days, and us of Qinghe Nie have been no exception!

Have Wen-dajie and Wen-xiong been called back to NIghtless City in the wake of the announcement? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chief Cultivator called upon the services of his prodigal niece to save him from death itself. Although I wonder if she will be able to accomplish much in his current state? I have it on good authority that Wen-zongzhu only has, at best, a few months to live, given the gravity of his wounds.

And yet no one seems to care for this detail, for some reason. Dage has been celebrating as if Wen Ruohan were already dead. Even the skies above the Unclean Realm appeared bluer than I had ever seen them — this, or I have finally gone mad! It’s been a little foggy as of late in the mornings, but I shall paint the skyline for you once it clears.

How fares the Lan sect? Has your old man already shed his beard at the prospect of having me again at the Cloud Recesses next summer, or did you personally take care of it? Speaking of Lans — Wangji-xiong left only this morning from the Unclean Realm. Business he couldn’t leave unattended, he said. Ha! What sort of business would a Second Young Master of the Lan sect have, I wonder! You would know best, Wei-xiong, but I would bet it is related to you in one way or another. You must have missed him terribly since he left for his “learning experience” outside of Gusu Lan. I’m surprised he didn’t take you, or that Lan Qiren and Lan-zongzhu didn’t insist on your going with him. Oh well, all the more for you to miss. They do say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

It was good of him to join us, even if it wasn’t for long. Surprising, but not unwelcome. You wouldn’t believe how bored I was before he arrived! The weather has been terrible as of late, and my birds have naturally taken to hibernating, buried in their nests all day long. Nothing to paint, nor read and in spite of that god-awful weather Dage still insisted on my training.

Thank the Heavens Lan Wangji was here to distract him! He doesn’t sound one bit like the boy you told me spent his free time copying every single scripture in your Ancestral Library during the summer. This isn’t to say he has changed a lot in the past few months since we last saw each other. Wangji-xiong still rises before everyone else and goes to sleep at nine, remains silent as a river during meals and meditates when he is not sparring or reading. He is the boy — the man we both know, you better than I do, but there’s something… different, about him.

There was a look in his eye that I couldn’t quite explain when Dage started talking about the Wens. By now, Dage knows better than to insult certain Wens, but he is not used to being selective, and isn’t always above biting the hand that feeds him. We Nies are not used to owing debts, especially when the debtor is the very sect responsible for killing our father. We are grateful for Wen-qianbei’s aid in taming our sect’s history of Qi deviation, but for all of his gentleness, Dage still has trouble accepting it. Nevermind that his family branch has been distant from the main for years, and that they are on the brink of a civil war…

I had the feeling Wangji-xiong had many things to say on the matter, but only kept his mouth shut out of respect for our brothers’ relationship. I did end up saying things in defence of our Wen-shijie and shixiong, but Heavens know if he will ever listen…

There was something else I wanted to talk to you about, more or less related to that topic. As I mentioned earlier, and as you know so well by now, I am hopeless with the saber. No one would believe me if I told them I took it seriously, with me being the last of them. I would be lying though, if I told you I’m not currently reconsidering it. Can you believe it? I hardly can myself!

The truth is, I had an... interesting conversation with Wangji-xiong before he left. That’s the best word, if not “odd”. At some point while we walked Wangji-xiong to the entrance of the Unclean Realm, he discreetly took me aside, and we somehow came to talk about my training. I almost expected him to say Dage wanted me to follow his example, and yet he said nothing of the sort. One would think that by now, Wangji-xiong must have realized by now that I am beyond help. And yet.

He asked me if there were any other weapon that I possibly felt an affinity with — which, I will confess, threw me off. I told him the truth of course, that there was no weapon in the world, not even a dagger, that could possibly make me want to train. I didn’t go any further; you know my reasons for not cultivating, and I suspect Wangji-xiong has an inkling of it if you haven’t already told him.

That was when Lan Wangji next surprised me, by looking pointedly at the fan I had in hand. A fan! For a weapon. I was tempted to wack him with it out of outrage or in jest, at the risk of damaging my poor fan! I didn’t do it of course; no point creating a political scandal in front of Dage, even if it’s only a jape. I told Wangji-xiong as much, of course, expecting him to roll his eyes at me, or decide that taking to me was a mistake altogether. However, he only shook his head, and told me to consider it, or talk about it with Dage, at the very least.

Wangji-xiong’s parting words to me were every bit as ominous. He said that if I didn’t train, then there would be no one left in the world to protect my Dage. He spoke these words with such solemnity — more so than usual — than by the time I realized what he had told me, he was long gone, only a flash of bright light in the sky, flying towards the horizon, and Dage had to put a hand on my shoulder for me to remember where I was.

Even now, I don’t know what I could have said back. But I think I will take his word for it, and have a word with Dage in the coming days. He’s a good fellow, that fiancé of yours - and don’t you deny me.

I sent off Wangji-xiong with a few books of mine - a parting gift, and as thanks of sorts. I hope you won’t mind, Wei-xiong. Besides, he needs it about as much as you do, even though he seems like the type of fellow to apply himself to deep studying where such matters are concerned.


Wishing you luck!

Nie Huaisang.



To my A-Ying,

I slept under the stars tonight, and wrote this letter to you by their light. It was a clear, starry night, and the moon shone bright above my improvised camp. I sketched it while I could still stay awake and see by the light of the fire, with some paints Nie Huaisang gave me, but it does not hold a candle to your paintings.

I supposed this is a taste of what the life of a rogue cultivator would be like — only a glimpse, but one I hope is faithful to it. It isn’t hard to see why your parents must have taken to it. There’s precious freedom to be found in being able to roam the earth with a meaning, with your soulmate. My own experience is, I’m afraid, lacking in that sense as yet. Not a day goes by without my wishing you were by my side. The past few months spent away from Cloud Recesses have been good to me. Formative in a way that, I will concede to you, textbooks could not do, but I do miss you so.

I should hope to enjoy it with you soon. After the lectures might be too soon, according to A-Niang — although her exact words were that it might too soon for Shufu… In a few years’ time seems like a good compromise, don’t you think? We will go wherever the compass takes us, with you sitting astride a donkey’s back, a little one on your lap, and me guiding us through slumbrous forests and busy city streets.

There has been a case of corpse poisoning going on for the past few days in the village I am currently visiting, and I have been asked if I could help. I know you won’t mind. One last night hunt, and I will come home to you.

The people here have started to refer to me as Hanguang-Jun. You will be happy to know that even non-cultivators have taken to the name you bestowed upon me. I know I am, because it is the name you gave me.

I passed through Kuizhou on my way back, not too far from the Wen border. A dark place. The area as a whole is solemn and festering with resentful energy. It is no wonder, with Shudong and Yiling neighbouring the city. Although I suppose Yiling has its charms, in spite of the Burial Mounds looming above it. It did give me you.

There was a rather odd case in this city. All victims — all members of the same family — had seemingly committed suicide in their home. The Yueyang Chang sect came to assist, as their master had business in town, and they were to remain in Kuizhou for some time.

I volunteered to join them, and we came to the conclusion that the victims were all possessed. The protective array that surrounded the family’s residence was broken, allowing spirits in and killing them all. We didn’t put them to rest in time to save everyone, but the living remain, and the dead shall be in their memories.

I have yet to understand how exactly the array came to be broken. A matter of time, most likely. Such things should not be ignored, and now we know it to be true. It led us to this night hunt — hence the blood. But don’t you worry about me, dear heart. It isn’t mine.

I have bought some candy that I think you will like. No pepper I’m afraid, but I will be passing through Yunmeng on my way home. I know how much you like their chili oil and tea blend.

Yours always,


Lan Zhan.


To the Violet Spider,

Would you look at this. I can’t even call you by your own name anymore, can I? I’ll be surprised if this letter even reaches you, nevermind reading it. So much has changed in the past few years.

I only wished to write to tell you that your son is doing well. This is by no means mocking; I am not one to wish harm or misfortune on a child, and I am truthful when I say that your son is truthfully, genuinely happy.

I do hope that this news will make you happy, too, if only a little. For all that is said about the Lan sect, happiness isn’t forbidden. I know I have learned as much; turns out it is never too late for such things.

Jiang Wanyin does come too close to the occasional fight with the Jin heir far too often for anyone’s liking, but at least he’s not actually fighting him. A sharp word now and then, a glare, a scoff. My word, if I didn’t have my sight nor my audition, I could swear it was you standing before me. He knows to watch his tongue when Wen-guniang is present - not that he needs to, as she is much sharper than he, but it is appreciated.

This aside, he has been on his best behaviour. He especially enjoys the company of my nephew, Lan Qiren’s son. Somehow, A-Xian has extracted a promise from him that they would become sworn brothers in the future. By some trick, he even managed to pull the Nie and Jin heir into the conversation.

It’s such a shame Jiang Yanli couldn’t come. I know Wen Qing and Luo Qingyang of Lanling Jin would have enjoyed the company of another promising young woman. One makes it hard to find friendships where there is fertile ground for them to be built on. We don’t get a lot of female disciples as of late, but they always thrive. Luo Qingyang is most impressive with a sword, as expected from the Head Disciple of Lanling Jin, and my Wen Qing is of course excellent with needles and tonics.

It’s never too late to send Jiang Yanli here, even for a visit. I’m sure the girls would enjoy it tremendously, and that both her brother and betrothed would benefit greatly from her coming here.

How good it is to know our children’s generation will foster friendship and aid between the Five Great Sects, unlike their elders. Really, one would think that you would remember the rules of the Cloud Recesses after spending a year here, and copying your fair share of them. I certainly do.

I am well aware that more than a decade has passed, and yet you don’t seem to care for the rules of this sect - my sect, my sons’ and my nephew’s. Otherwise, you would not have let your son leave Lotus Pier with his dogs in tow. And don’t you dare tell me that you were not in the know about this - you would only insult my intelligence, that of your son, and your own in turn. You won’t make me believe that you let him take his little companions out of fear that he might feel lonely. He has made more friends in the span of a week than you ever did in a year spent in the Cloud Recesses.

In any case, Lan Zheng has already informed Sect Leader Jiang of the situation. Such a pity that Jiang Cheng should have lost his dogs, so soon after bringing them with him. At least Jin Guangshan’s son had the decency of having someone care for his own in Caiyi, while he studied in Cloud Recesses.

I do hope he finds them soon, safe and sound. How sad it would be, for a boy so young to lose the only friends he was ever allowed. If you truly care for his happiness, you will allow him to have more, and to keep the alliances he had made for himself. Please don’t take the absence of official Lan seal for granted, Ziyuan.


With my regards to the Lady of Lotus Pier,


Madam Lan Chang.


Dage,

I can now say without a doubt that this must be the liveliest year we have ever experienced to date. Even we have nothing to envy our brothers’ generation.

You will be happy to hear that Nie Huaisang has been doing well in his studies thus far. He is naturally being aided as always by Wangji and Wuxian, both of whom are making sure he devotes himself to his studies. He had made friends with many of the other heirs as well; Wangji and Wuxian made sure to introduce him to Jin-gongzi and Wen Qionglin, and he in turn presented them to Jiang Wanyin. Both A-Niang and Shufu had feared that Jiang Wanyin wouldn’t get on well with A-Xian, considering their parents’ history. But it appears that we had nothing to worry about, except perhaps a harmless prank or two.

I may or may not have seen a few books of licentious nature slipped in a qiankun pouch — or two — as well as a couple of jars of Emperor’s Smile, but I could have very well been mistaken. Nie Huaisang has always taken care to bring his art supplies and personal blends of tea whenever he stays at the Cloud Recesses, so it is likely we have no need to concern ourselves with such innocent things.

But regardless of the peace and tranquillity that has reigned over the guest disciples’ first months at Cloud Recesses, there have been a few… incidents that have on the contrary been cause for concern. I know you aren’t much for gossip, but I have no doubt that you have heard of them.

We recently had to investigate a series of drownings around Biling Lake, something that hasn’t happened in over a hundred years. We organized a last minute night hunt with several guests disciples to look into the matter, and I brought Wangji and Wuxian with me. What we had simply thought at first to be a case of water ghouls, turned out to be a far greater threat: a Waterborne Abyss.

It took many of us to battle it, but in the end there was nothing more we could do other than to retreat. Wuxian had objections about it, as you must have guessed, but Wangji and I were quick to dissuade him from trying anything, and we retreated to the shore.

There wasn’t much that could be done to subdue the Waterborne Abyss. A-Xian had thoughts on how to combat it, but he reserved himself from expressing his ideas. I have a suspicion such ideas were related to topics not tolerated in the Cloud Recesses, and for all of his experiments he knows to be careful where resentful energy is concerned. Wangji wouldn’t let him stray either; as you know, he cares far too much for him to allow him to be consumed by such things. And of course, our parents and Shufu would never forgive themselves if A-Xian were to stray from the righteous path. But I don’t worry too much about it, or at least not as much as I probably should.

My siblings are safe and sounds, but we lost a Lan disciple to the Waterborne Abyss, Su Minshan from Moling. His death remains a mystery, somehow. Maiden Wen declared that he died from drowning, having never been a very good swimmer and swallowed far too much water for his lungs to keep functioning properly. And yet, while she performed an autopsy of Su-gongzi, I couldn’t help but notice that there were some odd marks on his arms and chest. As if he had been strangled… or stabbed prior to his death — which seems impossible! How could someone have slipped and killed before our very eyes, and amidst the chaos caused by the Waterborne Abyss?

I fear that the cause of the Waterborne Abyss’ presence in Caiyi Town was entirely unnatural. All leads point towards the sky, but I won’t go any further with my suspicions. After all these years, we have come to have a — I dare say relationship with the Wen sect, since they saved A-Niang, or at the very least a truce with Wen Qing’s family branch. And my siblings and I get on so well with Wen-guniang and Wen-gongzi…

If it weren’t for the fact that Wangji and Wuxian love each other so much, and for the ideals of our sect, I am convinced that we would have allied ourselves with the Wens through marriage. And much as I appreciate Wen Qing’s company, she is far more like an older sister to me, not to mention that she is meant for far greater things. In spite of its current state, I have hopes that the Wens will retain some of its past honour and dignity, once Wen Qing or Qionglin will return to Qishan. I have faith that either, if not both of them, will know best how to rule the Wens.

This is not the end of misadventures — “entertainment” as you like to refer to such incidents. Only a few days ago, while Shufu was giving a class on the history of Gusu Lan and Lan An, Jin-er-gongzi began to taunt Jiang-gongzi on the matter of his cousin’s betrothal to Jiang-guniang. While Jin-gongzi defended his fiancée, it seemed like Jin-er-gongzi was too obtuse to understand that he was breaking far too many rules. The conflict escalated, until A-Xian had to physically intervene to keep Jiang-gongzi from inflicting far greater damage on Jin Zixun.

Because the fight concerned two sect heirs — albeit with the second one having an indirect involvement in the fight, that consisted mainly of him trying to cut it short, we had to bring in both JIang-zongzhu and Jin-zongzhu to mediate and make a decision as to what should be done concerning Jin Zixun. In all fairness, the matter as is shouldn’t have required the presence of both sect leaders, but Jin-zongzhu insisted that an offence was made against his nephew, regardless of whether his only son was concerned, and that this could easily warrant expelling the Jiang heir from the Cloud Recesses.

I suspect Shufu only agreed to the meeting because otherwise, he would have never heard the end of it. In spite of this, we expected the meeting to transpire well as Jin-zongzhu was, for all of his reluctance to come, most amenable to make sure the relations between all sects were maintained.

It is by now common knowledge that A-Xian is Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze’s child by blood, and Shufu’s son by choice. When it was discovered that A-Xian was adopted by our Gusu Lan sect several years ago, Jiang-zongzhu petitioned for us to hand over my cousin, claiming that it would have been his sworn brother’s wish to see his son grow in Lotus Pier. But by the time he came knocking on our door, many truths had come to light, proving that it was, in fact, the last thing Wei Changze or Cangse Sanren could have possibly wished for their child.

I won’t delve into the designs Jiang-zongzhu could have possibly entertained about our A-Xian, but my blood boils at the thought alone.

Shufu forbid Jiang-zongzhu from ever trying to meet A-Xian without his consent, and made sure to keep him away from sight whenever there was a Discussion Conference where he would be likely to meet A-Xian. This time was no exception; classes were cancelled after the incident, and Wuxian was to stay with Wangji for the day, not getting anywhere near the sect leader’s quarters.

But Shufu wasn’t only protecting A-Xian from the Yunmeng Patriarch. I am not one to hold grudges, Dage, you know this better than most. But I wish Jiang-zongzhu hadn’t allowed Yu Furen to come with him to the Cloud Recesses.

For some reason, Yu Furen decided to leave Lotus Pier unsupervised during her husband’s absence — presumably out of concern that her only son might truly be expelled, but I wouldn’t put it past her to try and slip through the Cloud Recesses only to catch a glimpse of A-Xian. I cannot even tell you what the worst thing about this entire situation was — that no one was aware that she had followed her husband, without his or anyone else’s knowledge, or that after all this time, she still held onto a partial truth and had done nothing to better relations between her clan and the other great sects.

A-Xian was not supposed to run into them, and yet… I will spare you too many details, mostly because my fingers keep trembling out of rage and I cannot seem to calm down, no matter that it has been days since it took place. Yu Furen found him and my didi as they exited the library, and it didn’t take her long to recognize the boy, even though she had never met him. Before anyone could get a grasp of the situation, she had activated Zidian and struck in A-Xian’s direction. Thankfully, Wangji was quick enough to block her attack and keep her from getting closer to A-Xian.

The commotion attracted everyone’s attention. Shufu was quick to break up the fight, and Jiang-zongzhu to tear his wife away from A-Xian, but the damage was done. I have never seen Shufu or Wangji look so enraged before in my entire life. A-Xian had begun to cry, and sobbed uncontrollably until Shufu took him in his arms and assured him that everything would be okay. The sight of his tears did little to pacify the Lady of Lotus Pier. If anything it only fuelled her anger all the more. She thrashed in her husband’s hold, yelling at A-Xian and calling him all sorts of names, spewing insults about his mother. It took five more of our disciples to stop her from advancing on him.

Poor A-Xian is still shaken from the experience. Really, we all are. Thankfully he isn’t hurt, and only parts of his clothes were burned by Zidian’s flare. He insists that he’s alright, but his eyes glaze over and look out past us sometimes when he thinks we are not paying attention to him. Both A-Niang and Fuqin are furious, but their ire is nothing compared to Wangji and Shufu’s. Hadn’t our parents somehow kept their cool throughout the episode, I feel like nothing and no one could have stopped either of them from breaking the rules. I think many were ready to defy the rule forbidding killing in the Cloud Recesses on this particular day.

This matter too was settled, to an extent. The Jiangs are now truly forbidden from visiting the Cloud Recesses, save for the heirs. I feel mostly for Jiang-gongzi, who was not at fault and yet was still treated as such by his mother, and for Jiang-guniang, who has no implication whatsoever in this matter. A-Xian doesn’t blame Jiang Wanyin for not being able to interfere. Wangji isn’t so gracious, but I believe he understands now that sometimes, there are things beyond our control.

It will take some time before A-Xian recovers, but I have faith that he will get better soon. As long as his family is by his side, we will endeavour to keep him safe from the world.


Yours,

Lan Xichen.


Xiongzhang,


It has been done.

May this serve as a reminder that the Lan clan does not take well to those who insult their own.


Yours,


Lan Wangji.


My dear A-Ying,

I hope this letter finds you well.

You must still be mad at me. I won’t begrudge you this. Hence why I asked A-Niang to deliver this letter to you, instead of having it sent directly to the Jingshi. An underhanded trick, since you would never refuse her. But I wouldn’t allow anyone else but you to read this.

I know you wished to come, but do believe me when I say it was for the best that you did not accompany us. Much as it hurts me to say so, it is the truth. Too many people here knew the faces of Cangse Sanren and Wei Changze, and while I have it on good authority that Yunmeng was fond of your father, there is no questioning whose side the people of Lotus Pier are on.

Thankfully, the same cannot be said of all of Lotus Pier’s inhabitants. Jiang-guniang took the time to congratulate me on our engagement, in spite of her grief and exhaustion. The title of Lady of Lotus Pier befits her well, and she does honour her name. She wouldn’t allow anyone to be hungry, ailing or even uncomfortable in the most insignificant way. Madam Jin had to beg her to lie down towards the end of the day, when it looked like she would stay up all night with the servants of the house.

I think you would like her very much. She is a kind soul, and expressed her joy at meeting me and learning of our connection. Jiang-guniang was also — you will surely note with some self-satisfaction — very sad not to be able to meet you, the son of her father’s right-hand man. She assented to lending us their tablets for the ceremony as well, insisted in fact that we should take them altogether. While she didn’t say it explicitly, it was implied that they would be more at home within our sect.

Shufu took the liberty of inviting her to Cloud Recesses, should she wish for company. He was saying this, I believe, mainly out of concern for how trying the events had been for her health, and also because Wen Qing and A-Niang would enjoy the company - as you would. Madam Jin seemed to understand something entirely different, and promptly invited her to Koi Tower.

Not that she should have anything to worry about. Xiongzhang hasn’t shown any inclination towards her throughout our stay, and soon our engagement will be made official.

It isn’t quite related, but I saw Jin-gongzi looking at her when she thought he wasn’t. It is obvious to everyone that the two of them are attached to each other, in spite of past shortcomings. But much as I am one for neutrality, I will concede that Jin Zixuan has come a long way from his days at Cloud Recesses. I think they will find happiness; I certainly hope they will find it together.

Jiang Wanyin didn’t seem to be of the same opinion. But then again he has always been prone to being irritated at all things that didn’t go his way. The presence of alcohol only encouraged his ways, I’m afraid. Much like Madam Jin, he was not happy to hear of Shufu's invitation, but chose to take it out on me instead. We got into a fight of sorts — the word alone isn’t appropriate, as it stopped before it could begin. I am unharmed for the most part, only a few scratches. I cannot say the same of him; it took ten men to subdue him, many of whom cowered before his newly acquired Zidian.

For his sake, I hope his guests will brush it off as a manifestation of grief, rather than a sign of his potential incompetence as a future Sect Leader. My words may be harsh, but I do wish him the best and shall refrain from further comments lest I say something that would be truly unkind. After all, I know how fond you are of him, no matter how brutish he is.

I wouldn’t dare insult a grieving man either. Had I lost A-Niang, Fuqin, Shufu, or Xiongzhang, I wouldn’t fare any better.

Had I lost you, I cannot predict with certainty what I would do if I were to lose you. Nothing good, I suppose.

Jiang-guniang left me some recipes that she thought you might like, when I mentioned that as a child you were fond of Yunmeng cuisine. There is one for lotus root and pork rib soup that I would like to try as soon as I get home. Of course, I will also be sure to bring you many lotus seeds, and your favourite peppers.

I can hear your voice in my ears, even from a distance. “Is this a bribe?” Perhaps. This aside, see if I will refuse you anything.

Yours always,

Your Lan Zhan.


Dear Yanli,

I hope your travel back to Yunmeng was safe and free of disturbances.

By the time you receive this letter, I will probably already be back in Qishan as well. Wen-zongzhu’s health keeps declining, and in spite of A-Die’s best efforts and my own, we do believe it won’t be long before he comes to pass. He is persistent and determined to stay alive, traits to be admired from a Sect Leader as mighty as he is. Nevertheless, we won’t be long before he comes to pass.

For now all I can do is keep him alive for as long as the pain and his constitution will allow. When I am not attending to his wounds, A-Ning and I are under his tutelage, learning the management of the sect alongside cultivation techniques, among other things. But I will not bother you with such trifle and depressing matters.

If not in Qishan, Gusu or Yunmeng, I hope the two of us will be able to meet soon — with some luck, hopefully before the Discussion Conference that is to be held in a few months’ time, but it might be asking for too much. I’m sure your brother has been keeping you busy as well with the maintenance of the sect.

Madam Lan has been receiving more letters from Madam Jin in the past few weeks, and I’m afraid most are not to ask her to come around Lanling Jin for tea. She is, and I quote, “quite frustrated about the fact that you, Jiang Yanli, should be spending so much time coming and going in Gusu, unchaperoned and in the company of the Twin Jades of Lan!” and “felt that Madam Lan needed a reminder that you were already engaged to Jin Zixuan, lest she intended to have one of her sons, or (Heavens forbid!) her nephew married to Jiang Yanli.

If only she knew you were the one chaperoning and not in need of a chaperone… I know things have been a little tense for the past few months, what with Lanling Jin’s position in regards to your marriage to Jin Zixuan, but I do hope Madam Jin will manage to shake some sense into her son, if not her husband. He has been coveting an alliance with both the Wens and the Lans, but he will find that neither of us is willing to bend in his favour.

Madam Lan was quick to cut the rumours short and to let Madam Jin know that she was very much wrong on all accounts. In turn, Madam Jin was thankfully patient enough and very understanding of the situation, but I’m surprised that she wasn’t aware of it earlier. One would have thought that seeing Wangji and Wuxian’s behaviour, no one would have a doubt as to what their inclinations lied, given that they are everything but subtle. I am well aware that Lanling Jin is not a place where cutsleeves are common, but one would think that even the rumours spreading through Koi Tower.

I have news for you — if Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian haven’t already told you, that is. It is a bit of a bittersweet story, really. One of my family members, a distant cousin of mine had passed away some time ago, leaving her only child on his own. Her husband had died long before the boy was born, and having no other relatives she moved from Yiling to Qishan before her illness could prevent her from making the trip.

Wen-pop and Uncle Four have been taking of her child — have been taking care of A-Yuan since then, but they are no longer as young as they used to be. It didn’t help that up until now, A-Yuan has been almost despondent, far more than a toddler should. Few things made him happy, and he barely even cried either. We were beginning to worry, especially as he had very few memories of his mother, and didn’t seem to connect with anyone in spite of our best efforts.

And that was when a miracle happened, a few days ago. Lan Wangji and Lan Wuxian were meant to visit us in Nightless City and to spend some time with our family branch, not that there is much left of the main one. The two of them greeted Popo and Uncle Four as usual, Wuxian quite effusively and Wangji as proper as ever, and it was the midst of their arrival that A-Yuan came inside the room.

Upon taking in the sight of the newcomers, he blinked, and then blinked again… and began to tear up. We were all so stunned we didn’t realize what was happening until he was wailing and charging towards Lan Wangji. I barely even had the time to react before he hugged his leg and sat down on the floor, sobbing like a child who had lost his parents when walking. Lan Wangji, to his credit, didn’t even flinch. He only picked up the boy and rocked him in his arms, whispering soothing words in his ears.

Lan Wuxian also took pity of the boy and patted his back and hair. And A-Yuan not only allowed Wuxian, also a complete stranger to touch him, no! He also reached out to him, extending his arms and demanding to be hugged. It was, somehow, as if he had known Lan Wangji and Lan Wuxian his entire life, which doesn’t make any sense at all.

After this succeeded, separating the three of them was simply out of the question. A-Yuan wouldn’t allow us to take him away from his “DieDie” and “A-Niang” — I will leave you to guess who was who —, and he would cry anytime one of them went as far as the next room, out of his sight. In the end, Wangji and Wuxian had to stay at Popo’s, but it was perhaps for the better. From this day onwards, it was as if A-Yuan were an entirely different person. No, it was as if the boy he was meant to be had finally awakened from his slumber. I won’t deny that seeing him smile for the first time since he came to Nightless City stirred something within me.

We all dreaded the day they had to leave. It came all too soon, even when both of them had extended their stay by two weeks. But by the time it came, everyone agreed that it would be better if A-Yuan stayed with Lan Wangji and Lan Wuxian. The decision wasn’t hard to make, nor hard for them to accept. I could tell as well that Lan Wangji would have fought us tooth and nail to have the boy to himself, had we refused to let him go. But I know he and Wuxian can be trusted to become A-Yuan’s new parents.

I still await Lan Qiren’s response to the news, but I have every reason to believe it will be nothing less than positive.

Yours,

Wen Qing.


Lan-zongzhu,

Or should I simply address you as Qingheng-Jun, now that it seems like your eldest son is fitting into his role as future commander of your sect? Lan Qiren must be relieved. I won’t exaggerate when I say your presence was sorely missed during this year’s discussion conference, although your sect’s efforts to run smoothly past this detail were most admirable.

The past week I spent in Qishan with my Lanling Jin men — really, the first day alone, is certainly a day to be remembered. I find Nightless City much changed these days. You will understand that I’m still shaken from the news that Wen-zongzhu, our venerated Chief Cultivator, has had to step down from his functions as both sect leader of Qishan Wen and spokesperson for all Five Great Sects of the cultivation world.

Wen Ruohan was quite a pitiful sight to take in. Why, if he hadn’t been announced, I wouldn’t have recognized him for the man who constantly challenged us in our youth. Wen Ruohan has much changed, far from the great man he once was, and will now no longer be. I fear for what this might signify for the future generations - for our own, before all. How the mighty have fallen, if they ever were.

He officially announced during the conference, as part of the first orders of the day, that he would pass the mantle onto his niece and eldest heir, one Wen Qing. You may be acquainted with her, as I know the Lans have called upon the services of the Wens a few times in the past, when your wife had taken ill. She remained during the entirety of the conference, long after even the women had left. Presumably to shadow her uncle, as did her cousin, but I don’t see how that may be of use. She is a beautiful woman, a pretty young thing to be sure, but I doubt she will get very far. She is every bit as haughty and arrogant as her uncle and cousins — Heavens bless their souls!

Did you hear about Wen Chao’s death? How very dreadful. Rumour has it he found the hidden lair of the legendary XuanWu of Slaughter, but died trying to exterminate it. His right-man, Core-Melting Hand, didn’t survive either after attempting to protect his master. Not a great loss, unlike Wen Xu’s. That boy at least knew how to behave when in the presence of sect leaders. It wouldn’t hurt this Wen Qing to smile a little, or to learn not to speak back to her elders. After all, you saw what became of Yu Ziyuan. That is a sign, if there should ever be one, that women are not suited for the politics and inner workings of sects.

And of course there is the matter of the new Jiang-zongzhu’s ascension as leader of his sect. Two major announcements in so little time. The Jiang heir still relies so much on his sister, even though he is capable enough for the both of them and eager to learn from others. While she may the eldest, I can’t believe she is well-versed enough about the intricacies of her own sect to justify her ability to serve as his right-hand or even a minor advisor.

But for all of his willingness, he still has a lot to learn. We all had to learn through the Conference that the newly crowned Jiang-zongzhu had sworn an oath of brotherhood with not only your nephew, Lan Wuxian but also the second Nie boy! I’m surprised that we were not informed of this development, and I am cross with Zixuan and Madam JIn for not even thinking of notifying me about this. While Zixuan was not involved, he is almost of a similar standing among the group, since he is to marry the Jiang girl, although it’s not quite the same. Marriage is worth little, compared to treaties and truces.

It would do no good to shelter such talents, especially when they have yet to bloom. Any miscalculation and they could slip through the cracks, and then, what would become of us? Wouldn’t you agree that there has been no greater, no more auspicious time than this to form alliances? We sect leaders have nurtured our own internal peace for much too long, and our clans could benefit from the exchange of minds, especially ones as young and as bright as that of this new generation we have watched grow. We can’t allow another potential conflict to brew between us, an as such, we should not keep our disciples from mingling and learning from each other.

I have been given to understand that your youngest son is betrothed to Lan Qiren’s ward, isn’t he? I wouldn’t put it past you to wish to respect your wife’s desire to respect a promise made between two childhood friends, but you will agree with me that relying solely on such childish vows does not constitute a healthy arrangement in regards to maintaining a good balance between our clans. It doesn’t seem like your eldest son has shown an interest in women either, has he? Surely it would do no good for Gusu Lan to remain without an heir, even though I am certain that there is still time to spare before Zewu-Jun finds a match worthy of his time and status.

My sworn brother, Qin Cangye’s daughter Qin Su has bloomed into such a beautiful young woman. She is a most agreeable lady, and while her cultivation is not by any means remarkable, she is very quick-witted and a sweet little thing. I’m sure one of your sons, or yourself, would be delighted to make her acquaintance. Perhaps during the next hunting competition in Baifeng Mountain?

With my best regards,

Sect Leader Jin.


Dear Qing-jie,

Thank you for your last letter, and for the oils you sent in your package, they were most welcome. I have used them as per your instructions, and I confirm that they have been of great help in helping me focus on my cultivation while meditating and practising with my sword.

The truth is, I have been breathing easier as of late. Koi Tower had been quieter, since the previous sect leader passed away. Things seem livelier, brighter in a way that had once felt a little forced under a golden veil. Jin Guangshan’s death was unexpected, especially so soon after the discussion conference. We were all surprised to hear of it, especially when he seemed so healthy during the Baifeng Mountain Hunt and showed no sign of an ailment.

You have heard, I’m sure, of the dishonourable manner in which his body was encountered, not to speak of the way he came to this state. Madam Jin was as horrified as she was outraged, and hurried to have the details of such an event buried. But Lanling Jin has long since earned its reputation as the city where gossip knows no rest, and it was only a matter of hours before the entire population and the disciples of Koi Tower learned the news.

That their sect leader spent the night in a brothel, and never came out of it. That he was surrounded by a dozen women and wouldn’t cease his deeds until his heart stopped. The poor women’s silence has been bought, and many of them were not to be found anywhere in the city a week after the incident, in fear of being convicted for a crime they hadn’t committed.

I am not surprised by this turn of events, but I am more concerned about the wellbeing of A-Xuan and A-Niang, now that Jin Guangshan is gone. They are both strong individuals, far more so than I ever will be, but for all of his past crimes, the old sect leader of Lanling Jin was a husband and a father. But it leaves us room to grow.

Is it unfilial of me to be relieved that he is no more? I should not speak ill of the dead either, but I should hope to have nothing to fear, now that all proper funeral rituals have been completed. Life goes on, and we pick ourselves up from the tragedies that strike us when we expect it least.

Jin Zixuan is taking his new duties with utmost seriousness, but his features are no longer as tight as they were just weeks ago. Madam Jin is holding court again with friends and family she hadn’t had the luxury to see in years. Madam Lan is coming to visit us next week. There has been talks of Qingheng-Jun finally, officially seclusion for the first time, and he might accompany his wife on her trip there. It is very likely that I will be seeing A-Xian and A-Ji among their contingent and — I dare hope — finally meet their little A-Yuan! It is truly outrageous that as honorary godmother, I have yet to meet my darling nephew.

It would be good to see them one last time before their wedding, as I have no doubt they will busy themselves with all matters of preparations and arrangements. Spring can hardly come fast enough! It is good that A-Xuan and I also have a little over a year to prepare for our own marriage. This way, we will run no risk of overshadowing or being overshadowed — although this is more A-Xuan’s concern than my own. I wouldn’t care if we got married in a shed or simply in a town hall, as long as we were married at the end of the day.

I, too, am in the spirit of romance nowadays, I can’t help it I’m afraid. Oh, but I won’t bore you with my “sticky” stories as you like to call them, fear not! I know you have neither time nor interest in such things, but I will be sure to tell A-Lin and Wen-popo all about it in my next letter, since I know they are so fond of such details.

Did you know my future husband has a hidden knack for gardening I only learned of recently? Before he was officially sworn in as the new sect leader of Lanling Jin, A-Xuan spent the better part of his time in what is now to become my future wing as Mistress of Lanling Jin — although he went to great lengths to assure me that his own wing was connected to it through the garden, and that I am free to come and go as I please and spend as much time as I like in either once we are married.

The peonies are in full bloom this season. I have dried some for you, but sweet as they are they remain much lovelier when fresh. May you consider this an invitation to visit us in Lanling as soon as you like.

Yours,

Jiang Yanli.

Jiang-guniang,

Allow me to offer congratulations on your wedding to Jin Zixuan, on behalf of my little family. Xiongzhang’s own correspondence must have reached you long before, I am sure, but A-Ying found it inappropriate not to give you our best regards on paper, if not in person. The latter will have to wait, but we hope to reach Koi Tower in due time for the ceremony. A-Yuan especially looks forward to seeing his “Jiang-yima” and “Peacock-yifu” again.

We are happy to hear that Mo XuanYu is improving well, and that he and his brother are getting along well. I understand that First Master Jin must still be shaken from Jin Zixun’s untimely death, not to mention the previous Sect Leader’s. It is in moments such as this that we realize how precious the lives of our loved ones are. After a few weeks on the road, our family is finally heading back home to Gusu. I couldn’t have thought of a better honeymoon, and will miss it dearly. A-Ying is a little sad to cut our escapade short so soon, but I know that he is happy to go home, as is A-Yuan to see his grandparents and uncle. As long as my husband and son are happy, there is nothing more I could possibly ask for.

A-Yuan is growing well. Like a weed, in A-Ying and A-Niang’s words, and while I find the comparison clumsy, it is oddly fitting — I offered “rice stem”, but they both turned me down. Our son is proving to be very skilled for such a young boy. He has taken to the guqin and can already play simple children’s compositions. His Baba — A-Niang as he still likes to refer to him — was heartbroken when A-Yuan said he would rather learn the guqin rather than the dizi, but we all knew he didn’t mean any of it.

We had discussed the possibility of Uncle giving him lessons earlier than anticipated prior to leaving, but neither of us is in a hurry to do so. Children should enjoy their youth. For now he very much enjoys playing with little windmills and grass butterflies, and has taken to painting. A-Ying always carries spare paper and ink for his talismans, and his arsenal now comprises a special stash for A-Yuan to draw with. He has a very good eye for detail, and is already painting as well as his Baba. And he dares tell me I spoil the boy too much.

As of late, A-Ying is especially fond of capturing the likeness of our rabbits, something which even A-Ying struggles to do, even after years of visiting them. A-Yuan insisted on including a little rabbit to this letter, “to make his Pretty JieJie happy”. You will understand that I couldn’t refuse him. It is easy to forget that he is not ours in blood, and just as simple to brush off. A-Yuan has his eyes, somehow, and a nice popo whom we bought sweet buns from told us A-Yuan had my nose. But even if it weren’t the case, my husband would still say I fold like wet paper whenever A-Yuan does so much as pout at me.


With my best wishes,

Lan Wangji.