Thanks for the support! :) With the third chapter, the foundation is pretty much set for the fun that is to be had!
Chapter 3: In Which a Dark Cloud Troubles the Moon
Little Moon/Yue Er
After parting with Hsiao (whose confused face leaves me a little worried about his poetry competence), I went to a deserted alley and chanted a quick spell to change my attire into female clothing.
I noticed that besides the long queue for the potential candidates to vie for Mei Yun’s hand in marriage, there was also a side queue hiring more servants at the Cloud Manor to deal with the influx of competitors. Although I was a young goddess, my cultivation and powers were embarrassingly low, so I couldn’t become omnipresent like Prince Sun and listen to the conversations in the manor, I’m afraid I had to do the dirty grunt work on my own.
I queued up at the servants’ queue and when it was my turn, the middle-aged man looked me up and down and appeared not convinced of my ability to be a good maidservant. So, I narrowed my eyes (because I had some powers of temporary hypnosis) and said, “I will be a good addition to young mistress Mei Yun’s group of personal maidservants.”
The middle-aged man looked a little blearily but he nodded at his assistant beside him, “Send this maiden to the young mistress’ residence to be one of her personal maidservants.”
I smiled contentedly to myself as I followed the group of new servants who had been given the approval by the man outside into Cloud Manor. Since I was a goddess with low cultivation, I could only hypnotise or confuse a human’s heart temporarily, and that was the first time I ever tried it!
I was brought to meet a young girl just over eighteen, she had a sweet face with a dimple on her right cheek. She introduced herself as Xiao Hong Mei (Little Red Berry 小红莓) and said that she and her twin sister, Xiao Lan Mei (Little Blueberry – 小蓝莓) with a dimple on her left cheek, were the two personal maidservants of her mistress, Mei Yun.
I introduced myself as Yue Er and followed Xiao Hong Mei to Mei Yun’s residence. It was in the quieter part of Cloud Manor, there was a beautiful garden just before Mei Yun’s residence, full of blue hyacinths.
In this garden, there was a stone table and a few stone stools. At the stone table, there sat a girl in blue robes. She turned her head at the sound of our footsteps, and in that moment, I let out a slight gasp.
Was this Gugu (Little Aunt)? Mei Yun uncannily looked liked the most senior Moon Maiden, who all the moon maidens call affectionately and a little frightenedly Gugu, she was the brains behind Uncle’s Temple of Matrimonial Bliss, making sure that everything ran like clockwork while Uncle eulogized about love.
So, this maiden was considered the most beautiful woman in the Yan Kingdom. Well, Gugu was considered quite the specimen of beauty even among the Goddesses in the Heavenly Realms, it was only her erm… personality that caused most immortals to forget about her beauty.
Xiao Hong Mei and Xiao Lan Mei did not seem surprised at my shock, I guess they were used to people being bedazzled by their mistress’ beauty. Xiao Hong Mei introduced me as a new maidservant and I paid my respects to Mei Yun.
Mei Yun didn’t seem to register my presence, she turned anxiously to Xiao Hong Mei. “Did he sign up? Did you see him sign up?”
Xiao Hong Mei nodded and took her mistress’ hand, “It’s confirmed. He did sign up, my lady.”
Mei Yun seemed slightly appeased, though she was still distracted. “I begged my father to have this competition so he would have a chance to vie for my hand, since father is so determined to marry me off to General Yang (炀 – roasting heat) instead.”
Mei Yun laughed, “Well, let’s see if General Yang is able to pass the poetry round to even make it to the next round!”
I piped up curiously, “The poetry round?”
Mei Yun turned to me and smiled, “Although I agreed to marry the man who wins the three rounds set by my father and me, my father has agreed to let me have full control over the first and third rounds. Although my father is confident that General Yang will win the battle round and my gentleman will lose, I am confident that my gentleman will win the poetry round and General Yang will have to go home even before the battle round starts.”
I paused, it sounds like this is getting more complicated than I would like. Her gentleman? A General Yang?
Before I could ask for more details, Mei Yun rose up and started to return to her residence, “I’m tired, I’m going to rest since the competition is tomorrow. I need to think again about the poems…”
It was later that night when Xiao Hong Mei, Xiao Lan Mei and I returned to our chambers when I got the opportunity to ask who was Mei Yun’s gentleman. They blushed and twittered for a while before confiding it was Mei Yun’s previous tutor, Gentleman Yun Feng （云风 – cloud wind).
Mei Yun had always been doted on by Master Qian Yun, and he had acceded to her request to get a tutor to teach her classic literature and history even though it was relatively unorthodox for a young girl to learn how to read and write. Master Qian Yun had been extremely angry when he realized that Mei Yun had fallen for her tutor, Gentleman Yun Feng, and had kicked him out and wanted to force Mei Yun to marry General Yang, a young dashing general who was currently favoured by the Emperor. This was in contrast to Gentleman Yun Feng, who while gentle and scholarly, was from poor humble origins and had not had a chance to take the Imperial Examinations.
Mei Yun had refused to eat for days until Master Qian Yun, remembering his wife’s last words to love Mei Yun on her behalf as well, relented and agreed that they would hold a competition for her hand in marriage and she would have to willingly marry whoever that won. It was agreed that there will be three rounds, the first round will be a poetry round because that was Mei Yun’s favourite (and arguably the best chance for her gentleman). The second round Master Qian Yun insisted had to be a battle or a round that tested the man’s strength for he will only give his daughter to someone who could protect her, and the last round Mei Yun insisted will be decided by her to ascertain who really had affections for her in his heart.
I fell into deep reflection after learning of these from Xiao Hong Mei and Xiao Lan Mei. I now recalled what I had learnt about the thread that used to connect Mei Yun and Hsiao…… in that “past” life, their connection was one of respect and admiration. Mei Yun had agreed to marry Hsiao because he respected her mind and promised her the greatest library in the nation. It was not one of love, but a mutual meeting of minds. But, the key, the crux that I had almost forgotten, was that Gentleman Yun Feng was indeed Mei Yun’s first and only romantic love, but he had fallen ill and had died before Mei Yun even met Hsiao.
I gulped, have I changed their fates such that Gentleman Yun Feng was still alive? I looked at the three red dots on my right palm, I’m not expected to kill Gentleman Yun Feng am I? But if I don’t… am I supposed to make Mei Yun marry Hsiao, a man she doesn’t love?
On one hand, this went against my belief as a budding Moon Maiden, on the other hand (literally, as I looked at my right palm), this was my entire existence.
I walked out of the chambers and looked up at the bright moon. I whistled and a white bird flew onto my hand, “Xiao Bai (Little White (小白)), take this note to Hsiao.”
I watched as the white bird flew off into the night, carrying my message, Hsiao, the first round is poetry, the second round is a battle, the third round is a proof of your affections for Mei Yun, who is as beautiful as a goddess.
The next day was the start of the Great Marriage Competition. The whole Cloud Manor was filled with buzz and anticipation. Master Qian Yun commanded for the doors of his Grand Hall to open and the hundreds of male candidates started to stream in. It was so crowded that I had difficulty spotting if Hsiao was around.
I paused for I had spotted Gentleman Yun Feng. I saw the dark red thread that came out of his heart and connected with Mei Yun. It was a thread full of passionate love, of untold desires, and a trace of tragedy. He had a fine scholarly face, kind eyes and a gentle smile. I could imagine Mei Yun looking into those very eyes and smiling as they elucidated whatever finer points of philosophy that made them happy.
And then, I saw Hsiao. Even in the throngs of men, he stood out. His quiet but distinguished white robes, his twinkling eyes that seemed to set him apart from all those rough men, his unspoken laughter at the raucous crowd.
In another corner, I saw a fierce sturdy man in red. His eyes were sharp and he surveyed the crowd like a hunter to his prey. This man was a warrior; he had to be General Yang. A fine man in his own right, but there was a certain ruthlessness in his nose like the sharp beak of an eagle.
Master Qian Yun heartily greeted all his male guests, “I welcome all of you who have come from near and far for a chance to win the hand of my daughter, Mei Yun, in marriage.”
At this, Master Qian Yun beckoned for Mei Yun to appear on the raised stage in the Grand Hall. Elegantly, she appeared as if she was but a wisp of smoke, not actually made of flesh and blood. In all honesty, Mei Yun resembled a goddess much more than I ever will. She turned her face upwards, surveyed the crowd, her eyes landed on Gentleman Yun Feng and she smiled.
Her smile made the blood of the men boil and you could hear the rustling cries of “beauty” in the crowd.
With a wave of Master Qian Yun’s hand, two huge scrolls of white paper fell down from the ceiling. In each, there was a Chinese ink calligraphy of a word. On the left scroll was the word “美” (Mei meaning beauty) and on the right scroll was the word “云” (Yun meaning cloud).
“These two words make up my daughter’s name. I ask you gentlemen to write a poem inspired by these two words within the burning of one incense stick. There are tables set up inside the grand hall and outside the hall with brushes and an ink slab. We will be handing out scrolls of paper, just write down your registration number and not your name. My daughter, Mei Yun, will pick her favourite ten poems.”
I watch as the men took the white paper, some looked helpless, some looked eager. Hsiao was unruffled as usual. I watched as he slowly headed to a table with a piece of paper. He scribbled quickly on it, and within the time to pour one cup of tea, he was done. He waited for the ink to dry, scrolled up the paper, and passed it to some of the servants who were still giving out the paper scrolls.
“I’m done,” I watched these words fall out of Hsiao’s mouth as he then moved to the chairs set up at the side with tea provided.
He is done? He is done for, I dare say. I did not have much confidence in what Hsiao may have written. I shall see what I could do later when Mei Yun judged the ten poems……
After the burning of one incense stick, hundreds of scrolls of paper were sent to Mei Yun’s residence. She slowly opened them one by one. Even she did not know what was Gentleman Yun Feng or General Yang’s number, and could only judge by what was written.
I watched as Mei Yun frowned over one particular scroll:
Clouds are not red,
Your beauty is not blue,
My love for you
Is one and true.
She quickly tossed it aside.
After tossing about a hundred scrolls aside, I watched as Mei Yun’s eyes turned moist at one scroll:
Your beauty is the heavy cloud
That descends upon my heart,
Indistinguishable from my breathing.
I confess to being only learned in the arts of match-making and red thread connecting, so such flowery words did not have any impact on me. I was relatively unmoved as Mei Yun sniffed into her scented handkerchief.
Mei Yun turned to us, “This must be my Yun Lang (云郎, her gentleman).” She put it aside as one of her ten favourite poems.
With that, she half-heartedly sorted out the rest of the scrolls to find nine other suitable ones, trying her best to kick out anything that sounded victorious or bloodthirsty as she imagined General Yang to be.
Suddenly, she paused at one particular scroll:
Beauty is but a fleeting cloud,
That brushes by our shoulders.
She gave a thoughtful smile at this and placed it with her favourite poems. The calligraphy struck me, it was long and graceful, just like the way Hsiao moved within a crowd.
After much deliberation, everyone was gathered in the Grand Hall again. The mood was tense and everyone waited with bated breaths as Master Qian Yun started announcing the numbers.
Cheers broke out in the crowd when General Yang stepped up as one of the ten numbers. Mei Yun’s face fell when she saw that, though I realized through the subtle movements in the crowd that the number called actually belonged to another male, but he was likely one of General Yang’s minions sent to help General Yang win the first round.
I couldn’t worry for Mei Yun, I had to worry for Hsiao. Hsiao seemed unperturbed and when his number (thank the poetry god!) was called, he stood up as if it was nothing. Needless to say, Gentleman Yun Feng’s number was also called despite Master Qian Yun’s displeasure.
“Congratulations to the ten distinguished guests whose number have been called, you have won the right to enter into the second round in which you will show you have the ability to protect my beautiful daughter, Mei Yun,” Master Qian Yun announced, “My daughter does not like brutal battles, so it has been decided that we will have an archery tournament…”
Before Master Qian Yun could finish, I noticed General Yang whisper into one of his subordinate’s ears. I pricked up my ears and heard him say, That guy in gray robes, Gentleman Yun Feng, assassinate him.
I couldn’t listen to the rest of the announcement. Before I could think clearly, I turned to Mei Yun’s twin maidservants at the side and told them I was sick and was going to rest. I also added a bit of hypnosis to command their subconscious to forget about me.
Master Qian Yun came to the end of his announcement and the crowd was starting to leave. With that, I quickly went to the side exit of Grand Hall and pulled Hsiao’s sleeves as he was leaving. “Hsiao! We need to get Gentleman Yun Feng to come with us,” I told him.
Hsiao looked at me in astonishment. It was then I realized that I was still in female garbs.