Whee! The start of the final arc. I really want to thank each and everyone of you who have given me the support and encouragement for Little Moon. Reading, writing, translating... all these activities are actually solitary activities, but I have been so fortunate to have been able to talk to all of you, so instead of feeling alone, I feel so invigorated!
I'm a bit nervous about this chapter, so *cross fingers* all of you will like this. This chapter answers many of the questions I have been asked at the start. Enjoy!
Chapter 13: It all starts with a red thread
I felt an intense heat radiating from the core of my body. I blinked my eyes opened and saw Uncle looking worriedly back at me.
Even in this dire situation, I could not help but laugh at this feeling of déjà vu. This was just like the start when I first touched Hsiao’s golden threads.
I hurriedly blurted out, “How is Hsiao?” Immediately after I spoke, I felt a strange tightness in my chest and a strong lack of breath.
“Prince Sun teleported you to me. You don’t have to worry, he is with Hsiao and Xi Yang will make sure Hsiao is alright,” Uncle said wearily.
“Don’t move,” Uncle said as he pressed a meridian point at my wrist, “If not for Xi Yang giving you some of his own pure divine strength, you were very close to disintegrating your essence into oblivion. However, your core is now incomplete…”
Uncle shook his head, “Is Heaven’s fate for both of you so?” He shook his head more vigorously, “Perhaps, it is my fault. I should have revealed to you all about your origins, Yue, so you could make a genuine choice.”
I was lying on the bed and did not have the strength to lift myself up. I asked, “What do you mean, Uncle?”
Uncle took my silk sachet from my robes and took out the red thread, “Do you remember when I first gave you this red thread and said this was your beginning?”
My heart paused as I nodded.
Uncle lifted up his head and something rippled through his eyes, “Already, it has been more than a hundred years.”
A hundred plus years ago…
The Moon God
“She broke your red thread too?” I heard Moon Maiden Yi ask Moon Maiden Er.
Moon Maiden Er nodded, “It looks like what they say of her on earth is true… she has too hard a destiny structure and will harm her husband (克夫)”.
My interest was pricked. In all my years as a Moon God, I had not met a woman I could not match, “Who is this maiden?”
“Her name is Ye Liu (叶榴 – Ye comes from the Chinese word “leaf” and Liu comes from the Chinese word “石榴” (Shi Liu) which means pomegranate) from the Golden Carp Village. She is now twenty-five and long past the marrying age,” Moon Maiden Er curtsied in greeting and answered.
“Quite a few Moon Maidens have tried to connect a red thread for her, however, the red threads will connect but get cut very easily,” Moon Maiden Yi added, “It is quite a pity for she is a real beauty.”
Moon Maiden Er nodded, “When she was born, she was engaged to the neighbour’s baby boy. However, a year later, the boy fell ill and passed away. She was so beautiful that when she was thirteen, a rich merchant that traveled through the village wanted her as his wife. However, after they were engaged, the rich merchant received news that a ship full of his goods had sunk in the sea and he had to break off the engagement to marry a rich woman instead…”
Moon Maiden Yi and Moon Maiden Er chorused on about the various red threads that had been snapped into half along the way, through some strange occurrence or accident – none ever through her own direct actions.
Slowly, there were whispers that her destiny would harm a husband but she was still well loved by the villagers, for she was known to have golden fingers and was soon a famous mid-wife.
One of my brows arched at that… and I decided to visit the Golden Carp Village to meet this Ye Liu.
I still remembered that day. There was a small bamboo hut with small shrubs of pomegranate outside. The pomegranates were rounder and more luscious than I had ever seen like red blushing bags of happiness. The pomegranate flowers blossomed like the red-veiled brides that leaned up their heads in eagerness to be kissed.
There was a girl, passed the bud of youth, in faint orange robes like the fading sunlight. She was sitting on a bamboo stool by a small wooden table, her eyes were closed and she was sipping tea, as if she was waiting for something.
I watched the light fall on her black hair and flicked off her long eyelashes. She had an intelligent face. As if she heard something, though I made no sound, she opened her eyes and looked at me.
“Have you come to find me?” She asked, not surprised. She was clearly used to foreigners or strangers seeking her out.
Before I could answer, a young ruddy-looking boy came running towards us, “Big Sister Ye Liu, San Niang (三娘- literally three mother) is about to give birth!”
She smiled as if she already knew, “I had a feeling it would be today.”
She turned to me, “San Niang is having triplets, I would need another strong pair of hands. Come with me as well, then I will help you with your matter later!”
With that, I was pulled along by Ye Liu to help San Niang give birth.
“This doesn’t usually happen,” Ye Liu said as she dabbed medicine onto my thumb apologetically.
I shook my head as if to indicate it was no matter. The last baby, the only girl of the triplets, was born with one sharp tooth. It had bit my thumb so hard that blood had spurted out.
Ye Liu smiled, “Still, it is a blessing that the three were born safely. You have done something great, Gentleman…?”
“Liang (亮 – light),” I said.
Ye Liu looked at me curiously, “So, why have you come to seek me? Is a woman in your family pregnant?”
I laughed, “I have no wife or family.” Ye Liu seemed to brighten up at that.
“I am only a traveler,” I said, “I had heard about the famous golden fingers of Ye Liu and was curious.”
Ye Liu waved her hands at me, “These fingers?”
“I have seen them shine in action today and I am satisfied,” I smiled.
Ye Liu laughed. Her heart was like a bird - soaring, carefree and open. There were no holes to connect.
“What do you do when you travel?” Ye Liu asked, intrigued.
“I matchmake people,” I said.
Ye Liu’s eyes widened, “Aren’t only women matchmakers?”
I smiled, “The Moon God would disagree.”
Ye Liu seemed especially tickled and laughed, “Yes, that old man would protest, won’t he?”
Ye Liu suddenly sobered up, “Ah, you have heard about my destiny structure, haven’t you? I am a famous mid-wife, but an infamous never-wife.”
I nodded, “I have heard of it.”
Ye Liu smiled wistfully, “They say my destiny is too strong for any man.”
I saw her bird-heart stretched out its wings – not in shame, but in pride. Nothing would cage her.
“Life is full of surprises,” I said, “Let’s wait to find out.”
Ye Liu laughed and shook her head, “Why wait for any man before one lives?”
Whenever I traveled in the mortal realms, I never bothered to change my appearance, though my hair would be black instead of the silvery light of the moon. When I first appeared before Ye Liu, I was a young gentleman in my late twenties. Every year, when I visited her, I would subtly increase my age.
The young baby girl that bit me when I helped delivered her had already grown into a precocious child of eight. Since birth, her face was as round as a moon, hence she was named San Yue (三月 – Three Moon). I felt some hereditary pride in that.
Time was kind to Ye Liu, it passed through Golden Carp Village, but left no trace on her. In these eight years, there were men, fine men, who had asked for her hand in marriage, but she had declined them all. Although she never married, she was a godmother of possibly hundreds.
Every year, I would visit her, she would serve me pomegranate cakes and tea, and we would watch the full moon.
The light autumn wind breezed passed the river that flowed through the Golden Carp Village. San Yue mischievously stared at me for a while, before she asked, “Uncle Liang, are you in love with God Ma Ye Liu?”
I had to admit that the question took me by surprise, “Why do you say so?”
“Because they all say God Ma Ye Liu is waiting for you,” San Yue said.
I crinkled my eyes in laughter, “God Ma Ye Liu waits for no one,” I shook my head, “My heart cannot love.”
“Then, why do you visit her every year?” San Yue persisted.
I did not have a chance to answer because we were both interrupted by a beautiful melody played from a flute.
San Yue clapped her hands, “Big Brother Hsiao (箫 – flute)!”
She turned her head and I saw that at the other side of the river was a distinguished youth in white robes, playing a jade green flute.
In a blink of an eye, this little moon-cake faced girl had also formed her own red thread. I frowned because there was a deep tinge of black around its edges.
When the melody ended, San Yue was about to run towards the other side of the river.
“San Yue,” I said as she smiled at me. For the first time, I did not know what to say – for a red thread’s destiny is a red thread’s destiny, regardless of its end.
“Stay safe,” I said finally and patted her head before she ran off.
When San Yue was sixteen, Ye Liu fell very sick. Ye Liu had loved all her god children, but somehow, she doted on San Yue the most. She smiled as if in remembrance, “Maybe it was because she bit you.”
I visited Ye Liu on her last day on earth.
“I thought I would not be able to see you this year,” Ye Liu said gently as I sat next to her bed.
I stroke the hair away from her forehead, “You are weak and shouldn’t speak too much.”
“But I have so much to say,” Ye Liu smiled, “Liang.” It was the first time she called my name, a name that even my Moon Maidens and fellow gods did not know.
“They all said my destiny was too strong, but one’s life always ends in some way or another. I have no regrets, I had lived life the way I wanted it… but I do worry… worry for the things I cannot see to the end,” Ye Liu sighed and asked, “Liang, would you watch over San Yue when I am gone?”
“That’s good, good,” Ye Liu smiled and closed her eyes, “I shall take a small rest now. When I wake up, let’s drink some pomegranate tea and watch the moon, shall we?”
On Ye Liu’s last day on earth, the small shrubs outside her bamboo hut stood bare.
I had stayed for the funeral rites, which San Yue had arranged with her mother. San Yue had cried so much that her face was only two swollen puffs.
That night, San Yue and I stood by the moon lit river, the very same river I had heard the youth Hsiao first played his jade green flute. But, it was not the same river, for the waters are always flowing.
Although San Yue did not say anything, I knew all she wanted to say. I saw that the red thread in her heart had thickened – Hsiao and San Yue had exchanged marriage promises. Hsiao had gone to the capital to take the Imperial Examinations and had promised to return when he succeeded.
“Uncle Liang,” San Yue finally said, she lifted up her head towards the moon and her body seemed to glow, “I have realized that the lover is the one who waits*.”
“Although God Ma Ye Liu is no longer with us, I know she must have been happy for the one she waited for had came.”
Even now, I sometimes ask myself if I should have cut the red thread for them, knowing that the red thread ends in tragedy? But, what is a happy ending in love?
When a maiden is eighteen, she is at the peak of her blooming. She is no more a girl as she takes her first step as a woman. But, there was no flush of youth on San Yue, only the ragged traces of an endless wait.
When the first year ended and Hsiao did not return, San Yue stood firm in her faith in Hsiao. She was worried something might have happened to Hsiao and asked fellow villagers who traveled to the Capital to look out for any news about Hsiao. She was unable to leave the village since she had to take care of the aged San Niang.
In the year San Yue turned eighteen, a jade green urn returned to the village. Hsiao was said to have fallen very ill during the examinations and passed away. The truth was that Hsiao had been poisoned during the examinations by officials who knew his real identity as the illegitimate son of the Emperor. They had exterminated him before his birth could become a danger. I had seen it the moment I saw Hsiao – that faint golden ring of light that shone around him, but his royal destiny was not now… the karmic circle was only beginning and us gods had no power to stop it.
When I met San Yue, she was frail and wispy as the crescent moon. Only her eyes brightened when she saw me, “Uncle Liang.”
I nodded and patted her head.
San Yue smiled, “Uncle Liang, do you know how to play the flute?”
I nodded again.
She took out Hsiao’s jade green flute, “Would you teach me?”
For three years, San Yue learned how to play the flute from me. I would visit for about a week each time, and she would practise diligently in the months in between.
In the third year, San Niang passed away and San Yue had grown so thin that she was but a moonbeam.
That was the last time we stood by the river that ran through Golden Carp Village. San Yue took out the jade green flute and started playing it. I had taught her only one song through the three years:
The moon is clear, the wine is sweet,
Oh drink with me and make merry!
There is no time for tears,
So please do not sigh.
Whatever is not finished in this life,
Let's continue in the next.
For the first time in three years, San Yue played it completely without any mistake. She beamed at me when she finished.
She looked up at the moon, “Uncle Liang, I did not have a chance to play for Hsiao before he left. Do you think he can hear me?”
She laughed and shook her head, “It’s alright if he cannot hear it now. I will play for him in the next life.”
San Yue leaned her head on my shoulder, “Uncle Liang, do you ever think of God Ma Ye Liu?”
“Yes,” I said quietly.
San Yue nodded as she fell asleep, “That’s good, I will tell her that when I meet her…”
When San Yue slipped away from earth, the deep red thread with the trace of tragedy fell into my hands.
It burned like the nirvana fire, through my skin, it gave me pain that I had never felt before since my birth as a god. This was a deep red thread that was stained with my blood that was bitten at San Yue’s birth.
“Perhaps due to my divine presence through San Yue’s life and the blood that was given at her birth, the red thread that ran between San Yue and Hsiao had an affinity with divinity. I transferred some internal divine energy and a bit of my heartstone… and after a while, you were born, Yue.”
I was stunned, as Uncle held my hand tightly, “That red thread is you.”
* “Am I in love? --yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”
Little Moon's Matchmaking Mission!