Chapter 10 of Once Promised is much longer than I have anticipated so I have decided to put up what I have so far as part 2 of 3, instead of part 2 of 2.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Chapter 10: Pledging The Rest of Our Lives Together under the Peach Blossom Tree (Part 2 of 3)
As Ah Heng dashed up Xiao Yue Ding, she knocked into someone and nearly lost her footing. Luckily, the person extended a hand to stop her or she would have sprained her leg. Ah Heng smiled and tried to thank her saviour but her words trailed off when she saw who he was. Unbidden, her heart started beating wildly and she felt weak all over. Looking at her red ears and lowered head, Shao Hao asked apologetically: “Miss, did you hurt yourself?”
Shao Hao next noticed the man behind Ah Heng and gave him a nod and a smile. Chi You’s smile disappeared as he walked up to the pair and reached out for Ah Heng’s hand while he pushed away Shao Hao’s hand with the other. “What is the Prince of Gao Xing doing at Shen Nong Mountain?”
When Shao Hao remained silent, they were joined by Yu Wang and a young maiden dressed in red. Ah Heng guessed that the young maiden must be the god-daughter of the Yan Emperor. She was beautiful, much like the Mu Jin Flower, and Ah Heng thought the maiden had been aptly named.
Mu Jin smiled at Chi You, “Sister Yun Sang hurt herself. Luckily, she met His Highness Shao Hao who escorted her back.” Her smile disappeared when she noticed Chi You’s protective hand on Ah Heng.
Worried for Yun Sang, Ah Heng asked hurriedly, “What happened to Yun Sang?”
Mu Jin looked at her with animosity, “Who are you to call Her Highness by name?”
Chi You countered coldly, “Why else do we need names, if not for people to call you by?”
Mu Jin was surprised that the normally aloof Chi You would defend this stranger and bit down hard on her lips to prevent her tears from falling. Yu Wang looked at Ah Heng before saying gently: “We met several demons trying to stir up trouble on the way here. Luckily, her injury was not serious and she should recover after resting for a few months. Does Miss know my sister?”
Ah Heng nodded absently. What had brought Yun Sang to Gao Xing for her to have met Shao Hao under such coincidental circumstances?
A red bird flew down to perch on Yu Wang’s shoulder and he smiled at the group. “Dinner is ready and father bade us to go over.”
The Yan Emperor has prepared a table full of simple fare for his guests. Everyone paid their respects to him before taking their places at the table. Looking at them, the Yan Emperor had mixed feelings. Gathered in the house today were youngsters from the next generation who could change the fate of the world. In another few hundred years, would they still remember their dinner tonight?
Ah Heng spoke up, “Your Highness, I am not hungry. May I visit the Eldest Princess instead?”
The Yan Emperor looked at Shao Hao before replying. “Go ahead if that is what you want. Now that she has grown up, she no longer share things with me so it is good if you can talk to her.” Apparently, the Yan Emperor did not buy the story about trouble-making demons too.
After Ah Heng paid her respects and left the table, Mu Jin could hold back her curiosity no longer. “Royal Father, who is she?”
The Yan Emperor looked at Chi You, Shao Hao, before turning to face her and Yu Wang. “She is the daughter of my sworn sister. Due to my position, it was very hard for my sworn sister and I to meet, which is why you have never met her today.” His delivery was very sincere and even the normally cautious Shao Hao did not doubt his explanation.
When Ah Heng walked into Yun Sang’s room, she saw that the latter was staring blankly out of the window. “Big Sister,” she greeted, as she removed her Beauty Preserving Flower and sat beside her.
Yun Sang was surprised to see her. When she saw the peach blossom in her hands, she took it from Ah Heng and toyed with it a while before sighing. “So Chi You fought for it because of you.” As she placed the flower back on Ah Heng’s hair, she continued, “Shao Hao is here so be careful not to reveal your true face.”
“I have met him already.” As she spoke, both Ah Heng and the flower morphed into another look. “Big Sister, how did Shao Hao end up rescuing you?”
“I went to see Nuo Nai.”
“Wasn’t Nuo Nai in prison?” Then the truth sank in. “You broke into Gao Xing’s prison?”
“Did you manage to see Nuo Nai then?”
Yun Sang nodded.
“Did you tell him who you were?”
Yun Sang nodded again.
“What did he say?”
Yun Sang starting tearing at the question. “He was very cool initially and kept insisting that I leave, although I could tell that he was actually surprised and happy to see me. When I mastered my courage to finally tell him that I am not Princess Xuan Yuan Ba of Xuan Yuan, but Yun Sang, Princess of Shen Nong, he looked….” The tears finally fell from her eyes “He did not say a single word, but he looked...his expression… from disbelief to shock; from shock to anger; from anger to despair. He stared at me without blinking but I could see the sorrow in his eyes. It was as if his heart was dying inch by inch. I was so afraid when I sensed his anger. Yet when he was wallowing in despair, I wished so much that he had remained angry and yelled at me…”
Ah Heng tried to probe further “What happened next? What did he say?”
Yun Sang only cried and shook her head. “Nothing. He refused to say anything. Not long afterwards, the guards rushed in and surrounded me. Even when my safety was threatened, I begged him to speak, even if he only had hateful words for me, but please speak to me. But he resolutely turned to face the wall. When I started fighting with the soldiers, I told him that I would not leave until he said something to me. And he said… finally he said…”
“What did he say?”
“Get lost! He told me to get lost!” By now, Yun Sang was breathless from sobbing. Halting between words, she continued. “I went crazy and told him that the more he told me to get lost, the I more I am going to stay. Despite having father’s divine medicine to protect me, I got injured and ended up captured by the soldiers. At that time, I was so afraid! I was so afraid of the shockwaves I would bring if the Jun Emperor learns of my identity. But I had no regrets! Luckily, Shao Hao appeared. He was very smart and ordered everyone to leave the room while he questioned me.”
“When I refused to answer his questions on my identity, he said ‘Although I could not see your real face, I could tell that you are wearing a mask made from the heavenly silkworm. In all the realms, there is only one who could weave such exquisite silk masks which is Lei Zu (Grandmaster Lei) from Xuan Yuan Mountain. Legend has it that she has only woven four masks which she gave to her children. Since yours is a female mask, it must have been given to you by Xuan Yuan Ba.’ The more he continued, the more scared I was, but still I kept mum since I knew that there is no way he could remove my mask. But then he said something that convinced me to trust him.”
Yun Sang lifted her head to look at Ah Heng. “He said ‘Xuan Yuan Ba is my fiancee. If you are her friend, that makes you my friend as well. If you do not wish to reveal your identity, so be it. Just let me know where is a safe place to send you and I will send my trusted aide to escort you there.” Ah Heng caught her breath while Yun Sang sighed, “He is such a gentleman, how can I continue to doubt him? I told him to send me back to Shen Nong Mountain, and he guessed my identity straight away. He said that the less people who knew about my visit, the better, so that was how he ended up escorting me home personally. During the journey, he did not ask even once for my reason in breaking into their jail nor did he mention my injuries. Although Father knew I was not being truthful, he has always trusted me and did not question me further. If he knew what I did today, father surely would….” Yun Sang lowered her head and dabbed her tears.
Ah Heng was quiet for a while before she said, “Big Sister, Nuo Nai still cares a great deal about you.”
Yun San gave a self-depreciating laugh, “You need not console me. I know I am eating my just deserts.”
“When he scolded you and asked you to get lost, he was trying to protect you. It was the same reason why he kept asking you to leave when he first saw you.”
In terms of handling people, Yun Sang was normally way savvier than Ah Heng. But because her heart was troubled, she could not see what was in front of her. At Ah Heng’s words, Yun Sang was skeptical at first until her thoughts finally cleared enough for logic to sink in. Despite being heavily guarded, there was no reason for Shao Hao to turn up so quickly unless Shao Hao knew that the intruder was someone special to Nuo Nai. That would also explain his courteous manner towards her. His escort may not necessarily be for Xuan Yuan Ba and was likely to be for the sake of the Yi He Faction behind Nuo Nai. Although she remained silent, Yun Sang felt better gradually.
Looking at her, Ah Heng felt a wave of sorrow. Yun Sang had yet to know about the Yan Emperor’s illness. How sad would she be if she knew? When Yun Sang looked up and saw her expressioin, she asked, “What is the matter? Why are you looking at me so sadly?”
Ah Heng stood up, “Let us go to the hall. It should be time for Shao Hao to bade his leave.”
Yun Sang reached out to grab her hand, “Please help me thank Shao Hao.”
Ah Heng nodded. Yun Sang seemed to want to say something, but she only sighed and let it go in the end.
As Ah Heng walked towards the cliff, Lie Yang appeared and circled over her. Sensing her low spirits, he landed quietly on her shoulder. Stroking his head, Ah Heng said, “Yun Sang would learn about her father’s illness sooner or later. She had thought that all was over when Sister Yao Ji died and had broken down then. Who would have guessed…? Now was the time Yun Sang needed Nuo Nai the most, and if he valued Yun Sang, he would definitely try to see her instead of letting her shoulder two burdens alone.”
Ah Heng took out a bamboo slip and started carving ‘The Yan Emperor is critically ill’ while Lie Yang looked on. However, she stopped when Yun Sang’s words - that the matters involving the royals are never simple - came to mind. The news of the Yan Emperor’s health not only affected the power distribution of the world, it also raised the succession issue within Shen Nong. Not only must it be a secret from other countries, it must even be a secret from key ministers like Zhu Rong and Hou Tu. Yun Sang may need to hide the news from Nuo Nai so how could she take it upon herself to leak the news of the Yan Emperor’s illness to an important Gao Xing General holding military power?
Why? Why were things like this? If this was a normal family, it would only be most natural for Yun Sang to crave the companionship of her closest kin when her father was critically ill. But not only must Yun Sang keep this from Nuo Nai, she must also feign indifference to her own suffering. Nuo Nai would never know the pain she was going through. Finally, Ah Heng erased her words and merely wrote that the misunderstanding between Nuo Nai and Yun Sang at their first meeting was not deliberate, and begged Nuo Nai to forgive Yun Sang for her spur-of-the-moment cover up.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Some thoughts of mine:
I love Yun Sang and Nuo Nai. In my mind, Yun Sang is beautiful, gentle and capable. Although she is fit to be the Empress of her kingdom, her heart has settled on a General from another country so her romance path is understanably bumpy. Come to think of it, this is what happened to Ah Heng and Chi You too. If that is the case, why not let Yun Sang and Nuo Nai ally Shen Nong and Gao Xing together while Xuan Yuan Ba and Chi You can link Shen Nong and Xuan Yuan together.... and Shao Hao can either marry or bromance Qing Yang to complete the loop for Gao Xing and Xuan Yuan? *sigh*
- Moonblossom -