I felt a bit like Fei Wo Si Chun when I was translating today's post. For those who do not know her, chinese netizens call her "Stepmom" for writing love stories with screwup characters that go through tons of heartbreak before losing their true love anyway. Having said so, there is nothing too scary today save for some waiting and toaster treatment. : ) I have some other thoughts but I will pen them at the end of the post
The next evening, Ah Heng reached the mountains of Jiu Li.
The peach blossoms were in full bloom and covered the mountains like a fiery blanket. Deep in the valley, there was no altar, no witch doctor. There were only scores of young men and women who had gathered beneath the flowers to sing and dance. Their clothing were spun from coarse cotton and their lyrics were unrefined, but their steps were lively and their faces were aglow from their laughter.
Ah Heng could feel none of the festivities. As she waited anxiously beneath the peach blossom tree where Chi You would meet her every year, she felt a sense of helplessness which she has never encountered before her life. Since young, she had believed that her father doted on her and that her mother was strong enough to protect her from anything. But now, she understood that her father had given in to her requests because they have never conflicted with his interests and that her mother was not as strong as she has imagined her to be.
They were still her family but things were no longer the same. She felt anxious, afraid, and wished desperately that Chi You was here so that she could rest her forehead on his shoulder and hear him say in his cocky manner “Don’t worry. I’m still here for you.”
With his support, she knew she would be able to face all her trials bravely. She wanted so much to tell him that she did not wish to marry Shao Hao. She has studied hard to be a doctor in the last few years, so she was not totally unprepared to face her father’s objection.
Gradually, the songs faded away as young maidens found their partners and left. Her surface calm faded as the night got longer but she kept staring at the direction of Shen Nong Mountain.
By the time the last person has gone, she was hurting badly. Still she believed. Maybe he was delayed by something? Perhaps he was already on his way?
In the quiet of the night, she wished once again that Chi You would appear. He would be wearing his red robe, and she would see his rakish smile, hear the laughter that would escape him whenever he saw her, the way he would quickly dismount and rush to her… When finally he appears, she thought, she was going to ignore him and let him beg for her forgiveness for making her wait.
But as the night got deeper, her hurt turned into anger. Why did he make a promise if he did not intend to keep it? But if he appeared, she knew she would still forgive him.
Still, there was no sight of Chi You.
A faint glow appeared at the eastern sky signaling the end of night. If she has not been waiting, she would not have felt the passing of one night. But she has been anxiously waiting and last night had felt like a thousand years.
She was covered with fallen petals after standing beneath the peach blossom tree for the whole night. Tiredly, she hugged the tree in order to keep standing. Her nails dug into the tree bark as she kept chanting ‘Chi You’, ‘Chi You’ in her heart.
Qing Yang arrived and approached her with his customary coolness. “Is he worth it? You disobeyed Royal Father, injured your Eldest Brother in order to meet him. But where is he?”
He brushed some petals off her shoulders. “Perhaps he could have been held up by something important. But what of his promise to you? Is his promise valid only in good times and becomes secondary when things happen? You should know that gods live for a long time and there are many times in life when things happen, so what good is this kind of promise to you? Why not you come home with me?”
Ah Heng shook off his hand and looked stubbornly at the eastern sky. Qing Yang shook his head but he did not say more and waited with her.
Tears flooded her eyes. Although she believed that Chi You would turn up, there was another voice in her heart that echoed Qing Yang’s words - he was not going to show up, he was not going to show up… the voice grew in intensity and got louder and louder until it filled her ears… and she fainted.
Qing Yang quickly caught her and used the chance to check on her injury. He was both hurt and worried when he found that she has not treated her injury in her rush here. Although he had only used a faction of his strength, her internal organs were now affected, made worse by her having stood for a whole night. Carrying her carefully, he set off for Xuan Yuan.
When they were near Xuan Yuan Mountain, he found Li Zhu waiting for him with several guards. Li Zhu was one of his father’s key ministers and a founding member of Xuan Yuan so Qing Yang greeted him respectfully.
“His Majesty has ordered that I bring Her Highness in to receive her punishment.”
“My Little Sister is injured. Please allow that I follow you.”
Looking at the unconscious girl in his arms, Li Zhu nodded. “It seems I have to trouble your Highness then.”
When they reached the palace, the Yellow Emperor ordered the doctors to wake Ah Heng up. When she woke up and saw her father, she knelt wordlessly before him.
The Yellow Emperor asked: “Are you repentant?”
At her silence, he continued: “Are you willing to marry Shao Hao?”
“I am not willing! If Royal Father wishes to tie me up before pushing me down the altar, please go ahead.”
Qing Yang knelt and bowed his head to the ground. “Royal Father, please give her a little time. Let me speak to her, I am sure she will…”
The Yellow Emperor held up a hand to stop him. Looking at Ah Heng, he said “All these years, I have allowed your mother to let you do as you wish. I have neglected your education which is why you have forgotten your duties.” Beckoning to Li Zhu, he ordered “Lock her in the Fire Chamber. Let her stay there until she has sorted out her thoughts.”
As Ah Heng powers were those of the Wood element, locking her in the Fire Chamber would be akin to raking a wood over hot coals. Qing Yang started kow towing earnestly as he pleaded on her behalf “Royal Father, Little Sister’s powers are weak. She will not be able to take the torture. Please show her some mercy.”
Ah Heng on the other hand, got up and looked at Li Zhu: “Where is the Fire Chamber? Lead the way!”
Li Zhu did not think that the sheltered Ah Heng had such a strong side to her and felt a grain of respect for her as he lead her away.
After Ah Heng left, Qing Yang continued to beg the Yellow Emperor for mercy until the latter threatened to have him punished as well. Next, he ordered another minister to prevent the Empress from intervening in this matter. As the minister turned to do as he was told, he shot Qing Yang a look. Qing Yang took the hint and cooled down somewhat. Bowing once more to the Yellow Emperor, he said respectfully. “Your son understands. Little Sister indeed deserved to be punished this time.”
The Yellow Emperor waved him off.
Qing Yang left the palace, shook off his guards, and went to the marketplace. He cut through the busy streets and turned into a quiet lane that housed a laundry, a butcher’s shop and a small wine shop. Stepping over the dirty waters, he went into the wine shop. Perhaps because it was daytime, there was nobody inside. Qing Yang sat down in a corner and ordered a jin of wine. The shopkeeper obliged and placed a jar in front of Qing Yang.
That day, Qing Yang drank from morning till night. When he was drunk, he leaned over and fell asleep on the dirty table.
The shopkeeper knew him and just let him be. When he first met Qing Yang, he was but a young kid. When he next saw Qing Yang at thirty, he was so surprised that he called Qing Yang a demon to his face, which earned him a slap from his father. According to father, his grandfather, and his grandfather’s grandfather, Qing Yang had always looked like this. They did not know if he was a god or demon, but he should not be a bad person since he always settled his bills.
The next evening, a young man in white came to the shop and passed the shopkeeper an empty wine gourd. “Please top it up with one jin of wine.”
The shopkeeper did as requested and the man in white took his wine to sit beside Qing Yang. Placing a hand on his shoulder, he used his other hand to take a few swigs from his wine gourd.
Qing Yang raised his head and said blurrily. “You are here?”
Shao Hao asked: “How long can Ah Heng last in the Chamber?”
“That maid of yours panicked when she cannot find you, and spilled all the beans the moment she saw me. I guessed you should be drinking here so here I am.”
“Ah Heng injuries has affected her internal organs. She has been spoilt since young and is not one who practices her skills diligently. I really did not know how she manage to last in the Fire Chamber till now.”
Shao Hao sighed inwardly and wondered why Qing Yang was surprised that his sister was just like him. When Qing Yang was tortured by the Yellow Emperor for half a year, he had not begged for mercy either. After thinking for a while, he said “You cannot appear to be too anxious in front of the Yellow Emperor. See if you can arrange for me to go into the Fire Chamber. Once we got her protected, it will give us more time to think of a way to rescue her.”
As the two turned to leave, Shao Hao smiled to the shopkeeper and shook his wine gourd at him. “Your wine tasted better than your grandfather’s, but you are not as honest as him. You should not have given me one liang (one-tenth of a jin) less just because I do not have a local accent.”
The shopkeeper jaws dropped in shock as the two vanished into thin air.
Inside the Fire Chamber, it was as if the whole universe was on fire. Fireballs flashed like comets across the horizon and the scene was eerily beautiful, if one could ignore the devastating heat.
For Ah Heng who cultivated the powers of Wood, fire and heat were her nemesis. At first, she could still grit her teeth and endure, but as time went by, she lost the battle to keep the fire at bay and it got into her system and started burning her from the inside. The chamber was specially constructed to punish gods so when the pain got too much and she fainted, the magic within the chamber would wake her and repeat the cycle of suffering over and over again.
Li Zhu was saddened to see her rolling on the ground in pain. Although he was his Majesty’s man, he had watched Ah Heng grew up and he tried to help. “Your Highness, why don't you apologize to His Majesty? He has always doted on you and will surely release you if you apologize.”
Ah Heng remained silent. As the fire burned away her strength, she did not even have strength to roll around in the end and could only lay lifelessly on the ground as the heat gnawed at her insides.
She had lost track of time but suddenly, Ah Heng felt the heat dissipating somewhat, as if a shower has just passed over a forest fire. When she crack opened her eyes, she saw a wall of water pushing back the flames to form an enclosure with Shao Hao standing at the centre, looking handsome and ethereal.
He lifted her from the floor and looked at her with mixed emotions. He asked softly, “Is marrying me worse than suffering these flames?”
Ah Heng could not get any words out of her parched throat but managed to shake her head.
Shao Hao placed his water jade in her mouth and whispered. “Keep this in your mouth secretly and pretend that you are in great pain.”
Shao Hao put down Ah Heng and left the Fire Chamber. Flames started burning in the furnace the moment he left, but thanks to the water jade, Ah Heng now only felt a sting on her skin which was within her endurance level.
Under the orders of the Jun Emperor, Shao Hao was here to seek an audience with the Yellow Emperor to discuss his marriage with Xuan Yuan Ba. The meeting was held at the Main Hall and Shao Hao proved himself to be a polite and knowledgeable young man as he kept up an easy conversation with the Yellow Emperor. When the latter asked about the wedding date, Shao Hao replied. “Everything is ready in Gao Xing as my Royal Father wishes to hold the marriage as soon as possible.”
At the flood of well wishes from the people in the hall, the Yellow Emperor smiled and nodded. Shao Hao looked a bit embarrassed. “Now that we have settled the date for the wedding… I know it is not appropriate for me to meet with Her Highness. But I have brought some trinkets as a present for her and I wondered if… Your Majesty can allow me to give it to her in person?”
Everyone broke into laughter and thought that this was an excuse to meet his bride-to-be. The Yellow Emperor granted his request and instructed Qing Yang to let his sister rest today before meeting Shao Hao tomorrow. Qing Yang received the order and set off hastily for the Fire Chamber.
I want to take back every bad word or thought I have ever muttered about Qing Yang and Shao Hao. Qing Yang may look like an ice-cube and give off the vibes of one, but he is really the best Big Brother ever. When he tried to stop Ah Heng from going to Jiu Li, I thought he was being bone-headed. In retrospect, he probably foresaw what the Yellow Emperor would do to Ah Heng and was trying to prevent her from being punished if she sneaked off.
As for Shao Hao, I still get the feeling that he is Qing Yang's other half and not Ah Heng's other half. I am grateful he is quick to help a girl who does not want to marry him and I think his motive is driven more because Qing Yang wanted it and less because the girl is the Xuan Yuan Princess. I really like their bromance and hope that their friendship can remain like that forever.
- Moonblossom -