CH 26: Breathing

“Way of husband-wife relations?” Han Ruzi’s first thought was Luo Huan-zhang’s oft cited “way of benevolence and righteousness”, and thought that this was yet another necessary topic in an Emperor’s education.
He took measure of the servant-girl, and asked doubtfully, “Are you a teacher sent by the Empress Dowager as well?”

Dong Qing E smiled and nodded.
“I may be considered to be a different type of teacher.
Your Majesty is about to get married, I shall teach Your Majesty how… how to act as a husband.”

Han Ruzi couldn’t help but think that this servant-girl did not seem like an ordinary teacher.
He thought for a while before having an epiphany.
“Oh.
Way of husband-wife relations.
I understand now.”

“It is good that Your Majesty understands.
In that case…” Dong Qing E heaved a sigh of relief.

“‘The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady; For our prince a good mate she’.
The virtuous lady is the companion to the righteous gentleman.
One values virtue in seeking one’s wife, and avoids befalling to one’s luscious desires… So the way of husband-wife relations is what Teacher Guo had spoken about, is it not?” [1] 

Dong Qing E was stunned.
All she could do was move in front of the Emperor.
Her face reddened as she said, “The officials can only speak about it.
I… I… I shall teach with my body.”

Only now did Han Ruzi finally understand the servant-girl’s intentions.
He backed away guardedly.
He remembered what Yang Feng had warned him about: the Empress Dowager wished the Emperor to quickly have an heir, who would be a much more manipulable puppet.

“Oh, so you mean to say that you are a better teacher than Teacher Guo.
Whom did you learn from?” Han Ruzi started to feign ignorance.
A slight smile on his face, he walked to the couch and sat down.

Dong Qing E misunderstood the Emperor’s words.
She quickly said, “It was senior servant-girls who taught me.
I have never… tried with anyone else.
Your Majesty… would be the first.”

“That does not seem good.
My teachers are all sophisticated Confucian scholars, with hundreds or even thousands of disciples.
You have never even taught anyone else, how could you teach Us.”

“How can one teach such matters to so many people.
The way of husband-wife relations is something natural.
Your Majesty will understand once Your Majesty has tried it.” Dong Qing E had no more ideas, so she could only ignore her own embarrassment and walked towards the Emperor.

Han Ruzi yawned.
“We are sleepy.
Even if you are to teach, it will have to wait till tomorrow.”

“The way of husband-wife relations… is best learnt while sleeping.” Dong Qing E sat beside the Emperor and grabbed his hand.

Han Ruzi leapt onto his feet and ran towards the bed.
He was even more weary now.
Once he had an heir, he would have no value even as a puppet.
At that time, he would truly be “retired”.
“What an indecorous servant-girl! We have already said that we are not willing to learn.
Do not come closer.
Otherwise, I shall call for help — Liang An and Zhang Youcai are outside.”

The Emperor felt that he was backed into a corner, but Dong Qing E had little choice herself.
She laughed and said, “The two of them are sensible.
They would not enter and interrupt Your Majesty.
Your Majesty need not be nervous.
There is no harm in trying.
If Your Majesty does not like it, then Your Majesty need not try it again.”

Han Ruzi steadied himself and spoke loudly.
“I do not like it now.
There is no point in forcing me.
Do not come closer.
I order you to stop.”

No one had ever paid any attention to the Emperor’s orders, let alone his orders now.
Dong Qing E walked to the table while giggling, where she blew out the candle.
“Does Your Majesty feel better now?”

Han Ruzi did not feel better at all.
He had only one thought in mind: he must not fall into the trap — he must not have an heir.
He regretted not learning more martial arts from the Meng siblings.
That way, he would not be in such a predicament, backed into a corner by a servant-girl.

“If you come any closer, I shall call Prince Donghai!” Han Ruzi had no other ideas.
Even though he knew that Prince Donghai would not meddle in such business, he still regarded him as a rescuer.

The room was dark and silent.
Dong Qing E did not appear to have moved any closer.
Han Ruzi waited for a moment before heaving a sigh of relief.
Thinking that Dong Qing E was probably under the Empress Dowager’s orders and had little choice herself, he said, “How about this.
You may tell the Empress Dowager tomorrow that… that you have already taught me the way of husband-wife relations.
If anyone asks, that is what I would say too.
As long we keep our stories straight, nobody will see through it and you would not be punished.
How about that?”

Han Ruzi did not know how many holes there were in this plan, and thought that it was the best course of action.
He waited for Dong Qing E’s agreement, but no sound ever came.
It was as though Dong Qing E had been extinguished like the candle.

“Hello, are you still there?” Han Ruzi asked softly.
After straining his ears for a moment, he mumbled to himself, “Did she fall asleep?”

Just after he said that, an arm reached out from the dark.
Han Ruzi leapt up like he had just been stung, stumbled backwards, and knocked the side of the bed before falling onto the bed.
As matters stood, he could only risk it all and shouted, “Prince Dong—”

The hand moved quickly as a finger jabbed his chest.
Han Ruzi felt like a cloud of turbid breath as stuck in his body, and he was unable to speak.
Only after a while could he let that breath go.
Surprised, he said, “It’s you?”

“Mm, it’s me.” That was Meng E’s cool voice.

Han Ruzi was elated.
“Thank goodness you came.
You truly saved my life.”

“Nobody intended to kill you.”

“You don’t understand.
The Empress Dowager wants an infant Crown Prince.
Once I make one, she would get rid of me!”

“Don’t tell me such things.” Meng E’s voice held a tinge of irritation.

“Oh, you don’t want to hear me speak ill of the Empress Dowager.
Fine, I shall hold my tongue.
What did you do to Dong Qing E?” Han Ruzi did not understand why Meng E was irritated.[2]

“I made her go to sleep.
She will only wake tomorrow morning.”

“How did you do that?”

“just a little trick of martial arts.”

“Can you teach me?”

“You are unable to learn it now.
Moreover, it would be useless for you to learn it.”

Han Ruzi truly believed this move would be highly useful to him.
But since Meng E was not willing to teach, he could not force her.
“Then come here every night and make Dong Qing E fall asleep.”

“I cannot.
Unless I am on duty, I am unable to come here.
Plus if she keeps falling asleep like that, suspicions would be raised.”

Han Ruzi was highly disappointed.
“Then quickly teach me martial arts.
That way, I would be able to defend myself.”

“You really want to learn?”

“I do.” Han Ruzi had initially thought that learning martial arts was not of much use to him.
Meng Che was quite adept, but even according to him, he could only match five well-trained soldiers on the battlefield.
There was no comparison to a general who could command tens of thousands of men.
But after the events of this night, Han Ruzi had changed his mind.
If he wished to assert control beyond ten steps, he had to start within ten steps.
Yang Feng and Luo Huan-zhang’s teachings were only useful to a true Emperor.
For him, right now, those teachings were merely academic.

Seeing the Emperor agree so swiftly, it was Meng E’s turn to fall silent.
Only after a while did she say, “You must know that that means you owe me a favor.
When I ask for it, you must agree.”

“You can tell me what you want now.”

“No.
It is pointless to talk about it now.
We shall talk when you wield true power.
But I can promise that it is not something particularly difficult.
It is definitely within an Emperor’s abilities.”

Han Ruzi gradually grew calm and could think normally again.
“You and your brother are helping the Empress Dowager for such a favor, right? But the Empress Dowager already wields power — did she refuse your request?”

“Do not speculate, I will not tell you the answer.
Also, coming to you is my own idea.
My brother does not know.
Do not let it slip in front of him.”

“Alright.”

Meng E was silent for a while more.
Just when Han Ruzi thought that she had left, Meng E said, “My inner qi technique is rather complicated.
You must train both internally and externally…”

“What martial sect are you from?” asked Han Ruzi.

“You are not allowed to ask questions.
Just cultivate the way that I teach you.”

This was a strict teacher, equal to Luo Huan-zhang.
Han Ruzi could only grunt solemnly in agreement.

“Your situation is unique — you cannot train openly.
So a simplified technique is most suitable for you.”

“Would a simplified technique be weaker?” Han Ruzi could not help but ask another question.

“Whether it is strong or weak would depend on your own comprehension and hard work.
Must you learn the most powerful technique?”

Han Ruzi reflected that learning martial arts was so that he could have some ability to protect himself, not to become the most powerful warrior.
“You are right.
Do continue.”

“I do not have much time.
I will teach you some introductory techniques.
They are easy, you just need to persevere in training.”

“I can persevere.”

“Good.
Then I shall teach you breathing techniques.”

“Breathing? But everyone knows how to breathe.”

“If you want to learn from me, stop asking so many questions.”

“Alright, go on.”

“Everyone knows how to breathe, but that is just natural breathing.
There are two techniques in cultivating inner qi — going with the flow, and going against the flow.
First, go against the flow to find your meridian channels.
Then, go with the flow.
Try breathing in with your chest out, and breathing out with your chest in.”

This was the opposite of normal breathing, but it was not difficult.
Han Ruzi got it within two tries.
He smiled and said, “This is indeed simple.”

“The difficulty is in maintaining it.
In the future, you must practice this while walking, while sitting, even while sleeping.”

“Sleeping?” Han Ruzi was suddenly on his guard.
He suddenly realized that Meng E was a woman, not much older than Dong Qing E, and also worked for the Empress Dowager.
It was more likely that Meng E would have an ulterior motive.

A palm came from the dark smacking the Emperor’s head.
“Stop spacing out.
Focus on training.”

Han Ruzi kept his thoughts and tried a few more times.
“I have learnt it.
How long must I practice every day?”

“The longer the better, but don’t force it.”

“Alright.
Do continue.”

“We are done for today.”

“Just that?” Han Ruzi was very disappointed.

“Cultivating inner qi requires orderly progress and gradual accumulation.
Only after you show some improvement, will I teach you the next stage of techniques.”

“Alright.”

“Also, you must figure out a way to get my brother to teach you the Hundred-Step Fist.
The effects would be better if you train both internally and externally.”

“Isn’t the Hundred-Step Fist an ordinary fist technique?” Han Ruzi could not help but ask.
He remembered that the young noble Zhang Yanghao had used the Hundred-Step Fist.
It was the usual training technique of soldiers in the Chu army.

“I cannot teach you the techniques of my martial sect.
If you learn them, you would use them, and any expert would be able to tell with a glance, especially my brother.
Even though the Hundred-Step Fist is ordinary, it is sufficient for external training purposes.
You just need to remember one thing: regardless of what anyone says, when you train your fists, you must also try your best to maintain breathing against the flow.”

“I shall remember.” Han Ruzi waited for a moment before realizing that Meng E had already left.

“I wonder how long it will take for me to train.
What will I do tomorrow night?” Han Ruzi pondered vacantly on the bed.
Yang Feng was not in the Capital, while Meng E could not come whenever she pleased.
He had become truly alone, and he felt like monsters were staring at him from the dark.

[1] Han Ruzi is recalling what Teacher Guo said in chapter 17. 

[2] It took me a while to figure it out, but I believe Meng E is irritated because in traditional Chinese culture, it is a bit improper for a man to be talking about making babies to a lady.

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