It is a Straight Road Vol 1 Chapter 1.23

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Jiang Jiu actually has quite a number of appearances in the story which I have removed in order to keep my recap ‘short’. He is an enigma who seems totally loyal to Xu Zhi until we find out that he reports to the Emperor. He looks after Xu Zhi very well but yet he has no qualms trying to kill her when he is under the spell of the Soul Snatching Bell.

This put him in a really bad light compared to Zhou Wen Wu when caught in a similar situation and I was ready to write him off as a likeable character until I learn more about him in this epilogue. I like this epilogue because it is finally answers the question that has appeared on-and-off the story – is Xu Zhi a cold and heartless person? I also like this epilogue because we finally see the bottom-most layer of the plot. Xu Zhi could have ended up romantically with Zai Lin or Jiang Jiu, had not been for Gong Sun Ling. Zhou Wen Wu’s luck is truly amazing that he managed to get his woman with so many outstanding men surrounding her but I am glad, that he is the one.

Epilogue 2: The Aftereffects of being Xu Zhi’s Assistant

 

As Zhou Wen Wu leaps off the stage, a man blocks his path and he yells for the man to get out of his way. Adjusting the grip of his broad sword, he is about to join in a fight between 2 bloodied men when his blocker grabs his hand. “Stop it! He is Jiang Jiu! He cannot die in peace if he dead by the hands of someone from the royal family!”

Zhou Wen Zhou eyes the man and recognizes him as the musician who used to play in Xu Zhi’s residence. Looking behind him at the entrance, there is no sight of Xu Zhi or horse carriages so it seems like she has been lead away to safety. His heart finally settles and he turns his cold eyes to Jiang Jiu, who is currently fighting with Zhi Jin Wu.

Jiang Jiu’s movements are smooth and fluid while Zhi Jin Wu is obviously having a hard time holding him back. The Soul Snatching Bell is really powerful to be able to command his latent capabilities and indeed, Jiang Jiu has been such a meek presence besides Xu Zhi for so long that it is easy to forget that he has once trained under the best martial arts teacher. What was the late emperor thinking to place such a highly-skilled warrior to serve beside Xu Zhi? Has he hoped that she can absolve all his arrogance until he can willingly serve the Emperor?

Still, no matter how good at fighting Jiang Jiu is, he is still human and from the way Zhi Jin Wu is giving his all, he would have depleted most of his strength by the time Zhi Jin Wu is down which will be his opportunity to strike. “He has to die because he is under the spell of the Soul Snatching Bell. So long as he is alive, he will carry out its order to kill Xu Zhi and what do you think – is it better that he dies, or Xu Zhi dies?”

Yun Qing hangs his head in sadness as he knows that Xu Zhi’s life is more important than Jiang Jiu’s if they are weigh on the same scale. “Your Second Highness, Zhi Jin Wu cannot hold him back much longer and I will help you. But please, let me be the person to deliver the last blow if it comes the crux.”

Zhou Wen Zhou did not reply which Yun Qing takes it that he is agreeable to his suggestion and lets out a sigh of relief. Looking at the bloodshed around him, he comforts himself that both Jiang Jiu and himself will die without having to go through old age, which may not be such a bad thing. His mind travels back a long time ago, to carefree days when he only plays music for the sake of enjoyment. He is an only child and his family has scoff at his passion and when that happens, Jiang Jiu would pat his shoulder in assurance. “Don’t worry, I am still around.”

“Don’t worry, I am still around and in the worst case, we can be companions in death.” And with Zhou Wen Cheng to accompany them, their deaths would not be in vain. But as Yun Qing follows Zhou Wen Wu to the fight, he spots the Emperor on the stage and turns pale. “Wait, wait! Did you not kill His Majesty? Zhou Wen Wu, did you get him out of his spell? How did you do it? Please hold back! Hold back! Jiang Jiu is Xu Zhi’s assistant and she will be saddened to learn that he has died. Even a man who keeps a pet dog will be saddened at the death of his pet dog much less a human being! Do you want her to be sad?“

Yun Qing tries to stop Zhou Wen Wu from joining forces with Zhi Jin Wu but his struggles are ineffective. During his struggle he, is caught by Jiang Jiu’s blade accidentally and fell to the floor. “Xu Zhi suffers from headache! If she has another headache attack after learning about Jiang Jiu’s death and collapse, it will all be your fault!”

Zhou Wen Wu did not hesitate and brings his sword down on Jiang Jiu with all his might. Jiang Jiu lifts his own heavy sword to block the blow but when he did so, Zhou Wen Wu made an unexpected kick at his hand and heard a loud crack as the bone break. The sword fell from Jiang Jiu’s limp hand and Zhou Wen Wu uses the opportunity to grab him by his collar and push the latter backwards until he hits his back on a tree. “Jiang Jiu, how dare you try to harm Xu Zhi when you have sworn to serve her! How dare you be ungrateful to the person has sheltered you for the last 7 years! Do you know how much I envy you, to be able to look after her all these years? And yet now someone is actually asking me to spare your life now in order not to upset her? What do you take me for!?”

Jiang Jiu continues to look vacant and pounds at his attacker’s chest with his bare fists. However, both men are covered in blood and most of his slippery punches skid off their equally slippery target. Zhou Wen Wu can still feel his punches all the way to his bones when they land, but he merely grunts and leans in closer to use his body weight to restrain him while he asks Yun Qing. “I am only giving you one chance to save him. Tell me his weakness! Tell me what are his deepest fears!”

He sears him with his murderous eyes, as if some of his frustration accumulated over the years can be relieved through this route and in the distance, Yun Qing answers. “Jiang Jiu values relationships above all else. He was devastated when his family was killed and he hated the royals to his bones!”

Pushing himself forward, Yun Qing shouts in front of Jiang Jiu. “Jiang Jiu, Yun Qing is dead, Xu Zhi is dead! All whom you hold dear are dead. When you open your eyes, never will you see them ever again.”

Yun Qing is dead? Xu Zhi, his whole family is dead? Jiang Jiu struggles violently and opens his eyes.

“Good to see that you are awake. You are just in time to take your medicine.”

Jiang Jiu eyes the cheerful youth who has appeared at his bedside, and reminds himself that yes, he is still alive. Yun Qing is still alive. Xu Zhi is still alive. Severely weaken, he has to wait for Jiu Xing to help him to sit up and as he scans the room as if looking for someone, Jiu Xing supplies helpfully. “Are you looking for Miss Bai Hua? She has something else to do today which is why I am here to give you your medicine. I will let her know that you are looking for her when I see her later.”

“Who says I am looking for her? I am just wondering why she has suddenly become so hardworking.” He firmly believes that Bai Hua should not be allowed to stay but even if he feels this way, such matters must be first approved by Da Gu Niang. Of all the people working or her,only Bai Hua is hired by her directly while the rest are all appointed to serve Xu Zhi by orders of His Majesty.

He tried to feed himself but his muscles screamed in protest and Jiu Xing has to feed him. Jiang Jiu warns Jiu Xing to watch out for Bai Hua and not let her have the chance to harm Da Gu Niang which makes the latter pause. “Jiang Jiu, can you really not see through her? Bai Hua likes you and is trying…. aiya, why did you cough out your medicine?”

Jiang Jiu expression looks even worse than when he first woke up, all broken and bruised. He has learn to conceal his emotions in the last few years and he can only say that his violent expression now means that he is finally becoming human again. No wonder Bai Hua has been talking weirdly these few days! “I refuse to accept her!”

“Miss Bai Hua is pretty and has a heart of gold….”

“You can marry her if you like her.”

“Jiang Jiu, don’t you think that the people working around Da Gu Niang has special affinity? First there is Zai Lin and Miss Tong Mo. Now there is you and Bai Hua….”

“Ha. We have been co-workers for so long and you actually believe she could have suddenly discovered a liking for me? Even if you believe it, I don’t.” He pauses to catch his breath and ponders on the situation. “I think she is trying to stay.”

“Stay?”

“His Majesty has decreed a term of 10 years for that all the men assigned to serve Xu Zhi. Da Gu Niang has told His Majesty too that all her female attendants shall abide by the same term for they need to marry one day. Years ago, Tong Mo is supposed to leave after completing her term but she wants to stay on and declares herself to be Zai Lin’s widow. Da Gu Niang has turned a blind eye to her then and kept her around. It is likely that Bai Hua hopes to follow her footsteps and thinks that she can continue to stay here if she becomes my wife. And with her dumb brain, she may even pray for my early demise… Jiu Xing, why are you looking like a dazed duck?”

“I am sorry! I mean…. you mean, Miss Tong Mo is only pretending to be a widow? She and Zai Lin are never really married?”

Jiang Jiu eyes him blandly. “Tong Mo is a few years older than you.”

“A few years older is a good thing.” Although she can be rather violent at times.

“She is a mute.”

“I am learning to sign…. wait, wait. I do not mean anything by that.” A suspicious flush spread across Jiu Xing’s cheeks.

“Really? Well, Brother Zai Lin is an easy-going guy. Just look at how casually he can fake his own death and I doubt he takes his supposed marriage seriously. I do not think he intends to be “resurrected” and will most likely let Tong Mo remain his wife in name forever.”

Jiang Jiu watches in amusement as the color fades from Jiu Xing’s face. For himself, he has been emotionally numb for so long that he can no longer see any women in any romantic light. Jiu Xing probably has his youth to thank, for being able to open up his heart again so soon after his family’s tragedy. After a while, Jiu Xing passes him a music score. “Master Yun Qing wrote this.”

Jiang Jiu combs through the piece and recognizes the melody that Yun Qing has composed in their early teens. Since he woke up, Jiang Jiu has been bedridden and is unable to meet Yun Qing, but that chap has found ways to let him know that he is alive which greatly reassures him. Speaking of alive…

“How is Da Gu Niang?”

“She is fine. At least, she seldom has headaches after her operation. However….”

“Yes?”

“However, I think there is something wrong with my eyes, or maybe not since Master Zhou has not said a word. But I really think that she has aged.”

“Aged?”

“Yes, like she has put on 10 years in the last few days. Does Da Gu Niang take any special tonics which you have forgotten to instruct me to brew for her?”

“Perhaps she is just recovering from her major illness.” Jiang Jiu takes another parchment from Jiu Xing and this time, it is a paper which Xu Zhi has scribbled on earlier during the day. As he studies the contents and try to guess thoughts, he distractedly marvels once more at Jiu Xing’s youth. Beauty is a word that has long faded from his vocabulary only someone Jiu Xing can still be bothered about looks. “Any news on his Majesty?”

“His Majesty would send someone over every few days to visit Da Gu Niang.”

Send someone? Jiang Jiu seems to recall that Ting Wei has visited him personally when he was slipping in and out of consciousness some time back to pass him a special message from his Majesty. Then, Ting Wei has whispered in his years. “You are doing fine. Rest well and be assured that I (His Majesty) will not ill treat you.”

Despite the message, there was something wrong about it. Ting Wei has looked too cold, sounded too cold, for the assurance to mean anything. Even though Jiang Jiu is under the spell of the Soul Snatching Bell, the fact that he has tried to kill Xu Zhi must have convinced His Majesty that Jiang Jiu true loyalties do not lie with Xu Zhi. Still he cannot get over Ting We’s hostility even till today.

He finishes his medicine and Jiu Xing helps him to lie down. “Rest early and rest well. The early you recover, the earlier we can let Da Gu Niang know the good news that you are still alive.”

“Good news?” Jiang Jiu is skeptical that Xu Zhi is even bothered to know. “Is Da Gu Niang still intent on visiting the hometown of the Tu Yue Troupe people?”

“Yes. She is waiting for her hair to grow beyond her shoulders, for her strength to recover, before making the trip.”

“I understand.” Indeed, Da Gu Niang is singularly focused on testing out her theories, headache or no. “Has Da Gu Niang asked about me?”

Jiu Xing gives an embarrassed smile. “I think she may have asked in her heart.”

Jiang Jiu smiles too. “I am tired. Indeed I must be very sick to be drained by the simple act of drinking a bowl of medicine. You did well by concealing my situation from her. She should not be unduly distracted and she to rest too after her operation. Rest assured that I will try to recover soon. Afterall, there is still much for you to learn and I am interested to follow you guys to see the hometown of the Tu Yue group.”

“I am sure there is no hurry….” Jiu Xing trails off at the sharp look that Jiang Jiu shoots him. It could be his imagination but Jiu Xing often feels that Jiang Jiu do not really like him ever since he has come to work for Xu Zhi.

Jiang Jiu closes his eyes. “Ah Jiu (Jiang Jiu)… Ah Jiu (Jiu Xing).. perhaps, we are all the same person to her.”

When he did not say more, Jiu Xing thinks that he must be tired and leaves the room.

In the darkness, Jiang Jiu remembers his earlier dislike at her intimate nickname. Ah Jiu, Ah Jiu, are they close? But overtime, he has come to realize that it is not because of familiarity to greet people by their nickname. It is more likely that she cannot be bothered to remember who they are, their background, their stories, about the people who works for her.

Perhaps, her distance with them is a good thing. Indeed in another 3 years, he would able to leave her service and serve in court, just like her first assistant.

First assistant? Gong Sun Ling? The same Gong Sun Ling who subsequently cracked several major cases, earned the trust of the Crown Prince and gained fame as Xi Xuan Ting Wei?!

He remembered the day when he was brought before Xu Zhi and told to be her assistant. As he was leaving the palace with her, he recalled they walked past Ting Wei. Neither Xu Zhi nor Ting Wei has stopped in their tracks and it is only when Zai Lin gently reminded Xu Zhi to greet the hottest favorite aide of the Crown Prince that she stopped. Back then, she has called him Gong Sun Ling and Ting Wei was the one to remind her about the change of address to Ting Wei.

After exchanging pleasantries, Ting Wei patted Zai Lin’s shoulder and gave him a smile with too much teeth. “Seems like the Jiang’s family descendant is going to be Xu Zhi’s next valet.”

Zai Lin bowed respectfully. “Yes, it would seem so.”

Ting We turns to Xu Zhi. “If that is the case, you must train him and train him well, so that he doesn’t have any strange notions that he can climb over your head.”

Xu Zhi waves an impatient hand at Zai Lin. “Zai Lin, that will be your job.”

As Zai Lin bowed respectfully once more, assured her that he will, and Ting Wei gave another smile with too much teeth. “Da Gu Niang likes her assistant to be obedient and not ask unnecessary questions. Li Zai Lin, you must indeed use your heart in training your incumbent. If she is unhappy, it is highly likely that she will complain to His Majesty for a replacement and we would not want that, do we?”

Jiang Jiu does not know if his words are meant for him or Zai Lin, but the words have been programmed to memory. Obedient. Not ask unnecessary questions. Got it.

Xu Zhi was also looking at Jiang Jiu when Ting Wei made the statement. “He is correct. Do not give me any trouble.”

“Yes, Miss.”

Jiang Jiu opens his eyes wide as everything suddenly fall into place. No wonder Ting Wei was so hostile! It was because he has tried to kill Xu Zhi!

But why would Xu Zhi remembers Ting Wei’s surname when all her other assistants are only known by “Ah Lin” or “Ah Jiu”?

His mind is drawn back to the paper she wrote today and after a long time, he is almost certain that her words today are the equivalent of “I found you”.

But why would Xu Zhi be bothered about finding him? She has only ever cared about her research. If it is true, it is almost like he has to believe that the royal family can suddenly spawn non-lunatics. At the thought, the door to his room opens and Xu Zhi steps through the door.

She walks confidently into the room and lights the lamp on the table. She stands with her back to the bed while she studies the paper on the table, which contains what she wrote earlier that day. Her posture is straight, her movements smooth, and she do seem to be indeed recovering well.

Jiang Jiu finally settles his niggling doubt that Xu Zhi could be unwell still.

Perhaps she has recovered, which is why she is interested to solve the mystery of Jiang Jiu’s disappearance? That would explain what she wrote today. Thinking that he has at most 3 more years to serve her, Jiang Jiu thinks to himself that he will join her in solving his mystery. Smiling, he says gently. “Da Gu Niang, I was just thinking that you are writing “I found you” today. For once, Ah Jiu is finally able to decipher what you wrote.”

She turns around like she normally would, with no hint of pretense, puzzlement or surprise. As she walks towards him, her back blocks the light which causes her expression to be cast in shadows so that Jiang Jiu cannot really see her expression. He relaxes and smiles at her once more. “Da Gu Niang, you are indeed intelligent. How did you know that Tong Mo and I have survived?”

“Tong Mo is still alive?”

Her voice sounds a little strange but Jiang Jiu is still unable to see her face clearly. “Yes, she is still alive. It is just that we are both so seriously injured that we are not sure if we can make it so…..”

Xu Zhi mutters her customary “ohh” and sits on the bed. “Then how about now? Are you both out of danger?”

“Yes. I think I should be able to walk in a few more days and the first place I will walk to then, is to your side. About that day, I am sorry. I should not have raise my sword at you.”

Jiang Jiu deeply regrets his actions that day but Xu Zhi has other views. “I am sure it is not what you wanted. Besides, anyone would behave the way you did when under the influence of the Soul Snatching Bell. If I am in your shoes, I am quite sure I would have tried to kill you too.

Her matter-of-fact way of speaking is very familiar and so is the way she leans close. Jiang Jiu is immune to her intimate ways and can only pity Jiu Xing who must find it disturbing for his new employer to hover so close to him that he can probably smell her scent. As her hood tip backwards by her movement, he sucks in his breath. “Da Gu Niang….”

She pulls the hood back over her head. “My head must be kept warm. I keep forgetting.”

“Da Gu Niang, why are you ….” looking so wan? Why has she aged so much in so short a time? As he studies her, he is further shocked to see that she is crying. “Da Gu Niang, why….. why are you crying? Is someone unkind to you”

Or is it because of him? Jiang Jiu cannot believe that there can still be people in this world who would cry for him ever since his family is killed,

“Who would dare to bully me?” Xu Zhi puzzles over the question and lifts a hand to her face to verify that she is indeed crying. “This is strange, I am crying with no signs of stopping, but I feel so much more relieved now. Ah Jiu, do you think it is because crying has helped to relieve my anxiety or is it because I finally see with my own eyes that you are still alive, which cause me to relax and cry?”

Her unconventional question causes Jiang Jiu to laugh out loud. She is still the familiar woman with endless questions. No matter the occasion, she would be straight to the point. She can cry, but she would not bother to hide her tears, or make use of it to garner sympathy. She is merely expressing her relief that he is still alive.

To think that he has mentally labelled her as heartless – who is the truly heartless person around here?

“Da Gu Niang, do you remember that the first year I joined your service, you wanted to study the lucky charm of one foreign prince? Zai Lin and I have to spend a few months to gain his confidence and convince him to give the lucky charm to us.” Jiang Jiu remembers her fixation and his worry at the extent she would go to gain possession of the lucky charm. In order to uphold the image of Xi Xuan Xu Zhi, he has no choice but do the dirty work for her, in case she does something incredible and get caught for it.

Xu Zhi remembers the incident took but not when it took place. “Actually, you need not spend so much effort to get the lucky charm. I would have been able to obtain it even without you.”

Jiang Jiu smiles at her. “Perhaps you do not need my help, but it is my responsibility to serve you. Da Gu Niang, do take your time to recover. Give me some time to catch up as I want to accompany you to visit Tu Yue troupe’s hometown once I have recovered sufficiently to travel.”

As she studies him, his smile spreads until his whole body is shaking with mirth. Although the laughter causes pain to rake through his body, he is unable to control his mirth and has to cover his face with his hands to cull the crazy urge to keep laughing.

“Fine.” She rises to go. “You rest well.”

Before she leaves, Jiang Jiu has a question for her. “Da Gu Niang, do you remember Gong Sun Ling?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you remember his surname?”

She looks at him curiously. “Because he asked me to.”

That is why she can remember the surname of her first assistant? Because he asks her to? If he has taken the initiative to ask her to remember his name, would she have remembered his surname? But why was he under the impression that she dislikes people who make demands on her? Who was the one who said that Xu Zhi prefers her staff to be obedient and not ask unnecessary questions? For that reason, he has never told her anything about himself.

Seeing that he has no more questions, Xu Zhi makes her way to the door. “Now that I know that you and Tong Mo are still alive, I must say that I am relieved. Rest well and I will visit you another day.”

She pauses again when he calls out her name. “Can you… help me to extinguish the lamp?”

As she walks towards the table to do as she is told Jiang Jiu pronounces his next words carefully and clearly. “Da Gu Niang, Jiang is my surname. You can continue to call me Ah Jiu, but I hope that Da Gu Niang can remember my full name.”

“Ok. I have committed your surname to memory.” When he smiles in response, Xu Zhi speaks again as if remembering something. “Ah Jiu, I need you to practice sparring with me when you are recovered. Jiu Xing is not good at martial arts.”

“Indeed, this is my responsibility but I may need Da Gu Niang to wait a while before I recover sufficiently to be able practice with you.”

Satisfied, she left and closes the door behind her. Jiang Jiu can feel a smile on his face and coolness on his cheeks. Lifting a hand to his face, he is surprised to find tears. “So I am crying too. So I still have a heart that can feel….” Unknowingly, his emotional wounds have started to heal in the peace of the last 7 years. While he has been obsessed with hatred and vengeance, obsessed with regaining his family’s glory, has he found his true self unwittingly?

No matter the reason, he is deeply grateful that no one has seen his tears.

For a grown man, it would have been so embarrassing otherwise.

 

[MB: This post is longer than 2 normal posts combined!  Whew!  My poor fingers!]

It is a Straight Road Vol 1 Chapter 1.23

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It is a Straight Road Vol 1 Chapter 1.23 summary

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