- by Moonblossom -
Chapter 8 Part 1 of 2
“Ding ding dang dang. Ding ding dang dang…” The familiar tinkle of Sky Slave bells rang incessantly in the dungeon. She has not heard this sound for half a year at least, and the constant ringing sounded quite piercing to her ears.
She consoled herself with the fact that Bai Ming Sect’s dungeon has always been clean and devoid of torture instruments. She and Deng Hai Tang were led through rows of cages where Sky Slaves were being imprisoned. When she passed one of the cages, she passive gaze lingered on a hunky Sky Slave locked inside. His eyes were closed as if he was resting, and he did not look at the newcomers.
Their jailor opened the door of the cage next to his and shoved them inside. Deng Hai Tang nearly tripped but she held her up just in time. As the iron doors closed with a loud “clang!”, Deng Hai Tang said heatedly: “This is as good as declaring war against the Central Plains pugilist world. Is the Bai Ming Sect Leader crazy?”
Jiang Wu Bo nodded her head feelingly and sat down cross-legged against the side of their cage which bordered the next cage.
Deng Hai Tang continued. “Miss Jiang, I have brought trouble upon you.”
“I am still ok.”
At her words, the Sky Slave in the next cage opened his eyes abruptly and stared at the back leaning against his cage.
Jiang Wu Bo eyed Deng Hai Tang with interest. So this was how a female heroine behaved. In contrast to the gentle and soft-spoken woman who spoke to Xian Yun the other time, she was all self-reliant at times like this. So strong! But...
“Miss Deng will not succeed in finding a way out. Why not wait for rescue?” Unlike her, she was a parasite and would wait for a convenient rescuer.
An unreadable expression crossed the face of the Sky Slave in the next cage.
“Wait for rescuers? When will that be? What do you think is their aim for capturing us?”
Jiang Wu Bo sighed. “Ay, Sect Leader wants the resurrected Huang Fu Yun.”
“Yes, you see…” Jiang Wo Bo lowered her eyes and played with her belt. “many people did not believe that she has died. Bai Ming Sect Leader is one, the brother of He Rong Hua is another. Sect Leader is waiting for an opportunity but he has fatally injured himself with his malpractice of the martial arts, so he does not have much time left. As for He Yue Hua, he too believes that she is alive, so he willingly returns to Bai Ming Sect and stays in the dungeon, believing that she would return for him one day. Even though Tian He Manor claims that he is at the manor, he has faith that Huang Fu Yun would be able to see through the lie and know where he really is.”
Deng Hai Tang was shocked and shifted her eyes from Jiang Wu Bo to the big man behind her.
“Miss.” That man finally spoke, his voice hoarse and full of emotion.
Jiang Wu Bo continued to look at the floor. “He Zai, do you think you can beat me when it comes to playing games?”
“No.” His face shone with happiness. “Miss has a soft heart and would return sooner or later.”
“And how could you tell that I am soft hearted?”
He fell silent before replying with a voice choked with emotion: “Miss. I have never wanted to abandon you. He is my father’s youngest son and would also be his only son. His character is not as strong as Miss and I thought: Miss is not someone who would give up easily. Even if you have fallen off a cliff, even if there are swords swinging wildly at you, you will not give up until the last breath. So I…. Once I have rescued him, I went down the cliff to look for you but I could only find a body, a Sky Slave bangle and the jade flute.” His last sentence was ripe with pain.
Deng Hai Tang eyes widen. “You are Huang Fu Yun? But Huang Fu Yun does not look like you! She has a tattoo on her face.”
“I am afraid of pain so that is not a tattoo, just make up.”
“But… but the Sky Slave bangle is impossible to remove…”
“I have figured out how to remove it since I was fourteen. I only continued to wear it for fear that others would know that I know.”
Speechless, Deng Hai Tang could only stammered. “You… really fell off the cliff?”
She smiled. “Of course I fell off the cliff. I broke my bones, my head and my intestines were shaken out of place.”
She finally stood and faced He Zai. She lifted her fringe to reveal a scar on her forehead. “You are right. I have thought that there was no hope that day. I was waiting to move on to Western Paradise (heaven) but my survival instincts kicked in at the last moment. The result is four months of bed rest, no thanks to my excellent endurance skills, without which I would have needed even longer to recover.”
His eyes contracted at her news. “Miss…”
She smiled and gave a casual wave with her hand. ”He Zai need not feel guilty. Isn’t this the way of the world? If you can save me, I will be deeply thankful. If you cannot save me, we can still pursue our separate paths. Years ago, you have no choice but to become my Sky Slave. I was only ten that year and I worried day and night that you would kill me, so I keep emphasizing equality as the basis of our relationship. If you have to wear the Sky Slave bangle, so would I. If you are forced to tattoo your face, I will wear the same mark on my face. I taught you martial arts but I did it not for you to bring it to greater heights but to protect me in event of danger. That is the truth of our relationship for the past ten years - taking what we need from each other. And my aim of coming today is to tell you thus. We no longer owe each other anything. I will help you remove your Sky Slave bangle and we will walk our separate paths from henceforth.”
He watched her expression and said slowly: “I have already guessed your intentions when I saw the Sky Slave bangle and jade flute at the foot of the cliff that day.”
She did not reply.
“Has Miss been happy in the past half a year?”
“Not too bad. My name now is Jiang Wu Bo. I have things to eat, a place to sleep. Life is quite carefree.”
“Jiang Wu Bo?” He pondered on the name and laughed. “No waves on the River? I should have guessed it earlier. So it was indeed Gong Sun Yun who saved you. I was hoping he could lend a hand that day, but the unexpected darts that shot out from the woods stopped him. So he saved you afterall. Does Miss like him?”
She arched her brow and smiled. “Am I that transparent?”
He Zai stroked the jade flute by his side gently. “Has it been Miss of the old, she would have left the moment she recovered and will never be seen again.”
“And yet you would stay at a place like this to wait for me?” She got a bit angry just thinking about it. Since the first time she heard that He Zai was at Tian He Manor but that no one has seen him, she had known that this guy was not at Tian He Manor at all. How could she not know his character after ten years?
In order to force her to reveal herself, to confirm that she is indeed alive, he would definitely return and wait by Sect Leader’s side be it for one year or two years. Ten years was sufficient time for a person to change and the He Yue Hua of today was no longer the Eldest Young Master of Tian He Manor of yester eve. If there comes a day in future where he needs to kill someone from the orthodox sect, he will not hesitate. That is He Zai.
He Rong Hua could not see it but she has understood. Such a person was no longer suited to stay at Tian He Manor. Should she be grateful for his firm belief that she has sufficient self-protective skills and will not die?
“Would Miss be willing to give me another chance? I have already returned the gratitude of birth and have no other ties.”
She looked at him. “Am I really that important to you?”
He returned her look but did not reply, silently stroking the jade flute that symbolizes them. She pretended she did not see and looked outside the cage. After a while, she said: “He Zai, you are no longer a Sky Slave material and I am no longer Huang Fu Yun of the past.
She smiled and to his delight, she took the jade flute from him. “We spent ten years together. Although you are no longer a Sky Slave and I am no longer Huang Fu Yun, but it did not change what we have shared. This flute is you - no matter where you are, so long as there is a sword in the flute, it would mean that I have not forgotten you. Do you think this is a good arrangement?”
His eyes were brimming with emotion as he replied: “Miss is generous beyond my expectations.”
“If I am still wearing long belts that reach the floor, I would never have come today.”
At his confused look, she smiled again. “I am only trying to make amends.”
“In the past, you were a flower-youth, very easy on the eyes. Every heart that sees you will be set aflutter. But ever since you started learning martial arts of the Huang Fu family, you have developed these big muscles.” She shook his head and sighed. “Thankfully I only trained till I am fourteen.”
He Zai stared at her and insisted. “Big muscles are the hallmarks of a real man.”
She nodded obligingly. Men are like that; only their attributes are manly. Put the same thing on someone else and the spin may be totally different. Her expression softened and she stroked the slightly-damaged flute. “There are some things I have to clarify.”
“When I was bedridden, Gong Sun Zhi would nag, nag, nag and nag about the most mundane things every day. Sometimes, I wished I have died at the foot of the cliffs instead.”
“Does Miss want me to kill him?”
She glared at him. “The first strategy is always to endure, and things have not reach desperate status yet. What I mean is, thanks to him, I heard many jianghu gossip including those of the Gong Sun family. Their family has this bad tradition of marrying their relatives such as marriage between sworn siblings, cousins, et cetera. They may not do it intentionally but somehow, destiny has it that they always inter-marry.” Which was why many people had wanted to become sworn siblings with Gong Sun Yun. Unfortunately, she was the destined one.
He Zai narrowed his eyes. “And Miss is trying to say…?”
“Are there any bad traditions that run in your family? If there are, tell me now in case I fall into some trap in future.”
“None.” Absolutely nothing at all.
She said seriously. “That is good. Since I take the flute, I want to have whatever you have. And whatever I have, you will have the same. In the past, I see you as my family but yet I would suspect you will betray me one day at the back of my mind. Now that we swear to become brother and sister, we will become family for real and will depend on each other. We will call each other by name without regard for seniority, but if you marry, I will address your wife as my elder sister-in-law.” Finished, she stuck out her hand.
He looked at her and repeated her “depend on each other” with rare gentleness. “After my abandonment, Miss has actually learn to put your faith in others. It seems that Gong Sun Yun’s credit cannot be ignored.”
His sounded a little bitter but he strike her offered hand decisively nonetheless. “From henceforth, if I ever forsake Miss again, let me be strike by lightening.”
She blinked and touched her jade flute. Finally, she said. “I like to say I believe you but I still need time. Right now, I can only tell you that I am not afraid. Even if you leave me behind again, I will still think of you as family, and family will never abandon each other. You, He Zai, will always be my first family in my heart.”
Some thoughts of mine:-
So bittersweet. I am glad she finally speaks how she feels and to a large extent, it is thanks to the Gong Sun brothers for their physical and emotional medicine, because her words are not something one would say if she did not feel the backing of a family behind her.
He Zai also won points for choosing to be locked up a noisy dungeon in order to see her again. Knowing how he felt, his hatred when he let her fell off the cliff was probably directed at his brother and himself. He needed to repay the debt of birth, especially since he no longer view himself as a son of Tian He Manor, so all the more he needs to preserve a lineage for his birth family. I laugh everytime I think of his defensive "hallmarks of a real man" and I thought he should look rather yummy, like Lee Byung Hun. And if that is not Huang Fu Yun's cup of tea, I think we should not deprive ourselves of some mid-week ooos- and aaas- because of her preference, so hope you like my picture of the week. : )