Thank you for the lovely support in Chapter 6! The response to An Hun and Yu An still makes me a little swoony. I'm really happy and blessed to have readers who genuinely love and are interested in the Universe of Little Moon. I find that the more I write, the more I discover.
This will be the last chapter of the first arc. More author's comments at the end of this chapter...
Chapter 7: Bittersweet
I looked thoughtfully as Xi Yang watched Wang Huan being pulled away by Yu An.
Curiously, I could not see any thread linking Xi Yang and Wang Huan's heart together. Uncle did say once that the marriage thread between the gods is not something a mortal could see......
Or was it because their fate has not begun?
I watched the wind languidly breeze past the leaves of the willow tree, and I tossed my own troubled longings into the wind. Take them away for they are of no use to me.
Before I could clear all my thoughts, I heard a beautiful melody. It was a song played on a flute. I recognised this song, my mother had sang this before:
Through the fog and the rain,
The willow tree sits next to the bridge by the river.
Accompanied by the apricot and peach tree,
The willow longs for those that have left.
The thousand tangled strands of the willow intoxicates one in the spring wind*.
It was a man resplendent in white. I thought then that this man must be a god.
"I was inspired to play this tune by your gazing at the Willow Tree," He gave a small nod and smiled, "You must be waiting for Yu An?"
I awkwardly stood up as he smoothly came to my side, "Let me bring you to her room. My daughter's mind moves so fast sometimes that she gets caught up in the next thing before she finishes the first."
I felt my body slightly freeze - my daughter? So, that would make this man...
He gave a gentle smile, "This way, please." He elegantly pointed to a direction in front and waited for me to go forward first.
I may have been a princess in the Dark Realms but no one had ever treated me so gentlemanly before. And he was the Emperor!
I sheepishly went forward and the Emperor gently led the way. I curiously observed him from the side, so this was Ri's rival. A man no less extraordinary than Ri.
I watched as the Emperor stopped in front of a door and knocked gently. In a short moment, Princess Yu An opened the door with an excited expression.
"Daddy!" Princess Yu An cried and raised a triton shell towards the Emperor, "Can you hear two voices?"
The Emperor patiently leaned his ear into the shell, paused and then shook his head. I leaned forward and Princess Yu An placed the shell at my ear. I was surprised to hear an almost luxuriant melodic voice... like a hypnotic siren to make one forget everything..... I blearily shook my head at Princess Yu An as well.
She had a deep thoughtful look in her eyes as if she decided on something, then she smiled brightly at the Emperor and me, "Dad, how did you meet Wang Huan?"
The Emperor stroke Princess Yu An's head and I felt my heart twinged slightly at this simple act of fatherly affection. "Your mother sent me to find both of you. The red spicy pork dish is ready."
I felt my cheeks flush. In what universe, is the Emperor sent as an errand boy to announce that a red spicy pork dish is ready?!
When Ri asked me if the red spicy pork dish cooked by Hong Meng had the authentic nostalgic taste I was looking for, I could only smile back awkwardly at him.
Throughout the meal, the Empress very happily kept putting food into my bowl, while the Emperor placed food into the Empress' bowl. The Empress and Emperor did not exchange any express words, but their glances spoke volumes of the stored reserves of love they had for each other. I would then steal a glance at Ri who seemed unperturbed as he scooped food for Hsiao Yang and occasionally reminded me not to choke on my food.
This dinner though warm, was not going down well in my stomach.
Just as I was about to plead indigestion to another one of the Empress' hearty servings, I heard the call of the shadowbird. It was a rare mystical bird that was uniquely born and bred in the Dark Realms - it could only be seen and heard by dark immortals. It's call was extremely high-pitched and was of a specific register that would go unobserved by mortals and even gods. There were very few shadowbirds in existence, but I was on close terms with the owner of one - An Hun.
"This is another of Hong Meng's famous dish, the syrupy sweet dark sauce chicken." The Empress smiled and placed another huge drumstick onto my bowl.
"Sweet indeed," I smiled to the Empress, though the chicken tasted bitter.
"I need to rest here for a moment," I told Ri as everyone was heading to the garden courtyard to savour the moonlight and Princess Yu An's guzheng playing.
He took my right hand and checked the pulse, "I warned you not to eat too much."
I said nothing as I felt Ri transfer some warm energy into my veins.
"Were you satisfied?" Ri asked, "A medicinal pig eating a red hot spicy pig."
"It was a taste I had never tried before," I admitted.
He leaned in, slightly concerned, "Are you ok?"
I smiled, "I just want to sit here and savour the moment for a while."
"Uncle! Uncle!" I could hear Hsiao Yang calling him from afar.
As he turned to go, I could not help calling his name, "Ri."
He turned back, "Yes?"
"What is the promise you wanted?" I asked. I wanted to know.
"It's not time yet," Ri smiled. And, he turned to the other calls for him.
As soon as their voices receded, I heard the other voice that had accompanied me my whole life. "妹 (Mei - little sister), how has your adventure been?"
I turned back to face An Hun's eternally beautiful face that was framed with his classic cunning smile, "Will there ever be a time when you don't appear behind my back?"
I quickly got up and hugged An Hun, "哥哥 (Gege, older brother), have you come to take me back already?"
"The Dark Lord wants to see you," An Hun said as he patted my head, "I can give you one more week if you want."
I recalled how my heart shrank when Ri looked at Yue, and I shook my head. "One more week makes no difference," I said. "Are we going to leave now?"
An Hun looked at my forehead carefully, "I need a moment to remove your bodyguard's tracer on you. It's quite powerful. Fortunately, the sun has set."
I smiled sheepishly at An Hun, "Could you transform a parchment, ink and brush here? I want to leave a note. It's feels a bit like running away from a restaurant without paying."
An Hun said nothing but a parchment, ink and brush appeared on the table. He looked like he was absorbed in a mental maze and I left him to figure out how to eliminate the tracer Ri had placed on me.
I looked at the blank parchment before me and thought, where should I start? Should I start from the moment in my courtyard when a tall aristocratic figure in simple robes - strong brows, aquiline nose, eyes that shone like the sun - arrived?
After a moment, I heard An Hun gave a whistle to his shadowbird. He turned to me, "Are you ready?"
I nodded as I felt An Hun take hold of my hand and in a moment we were up in the sky on his shadowbird, a large silvery bird with red eyes and no name. I always remembered what An Hun said when I asked him why he did not name his shadowbird - who is going to call my name?
I watched as the palace disappeared from my sight. How different it was from a travelling cloud.
"Are you thinking of Wang Huan?" Yue smiled mischievously at Xi Yang whose brows were furrowed even as Yu An begun playing on her guzheng.
"No," Xi Yang said, though the deep lines in his forehead seemed to suggest otherwise.
"Do you like her?" Yue asked in her usual blunt innocent manner.
"No!" Xi Yang answered even more strongly.
Yu An who was used to her mother and brother making a lot of noise at the side when she played her guzheng, effortlessly concentrated on her musical piece and was not affected.
"Xi Yang Gege, I may be younger than you in age but I am far older when it comes to matters of the heart," Yue said proudly, "Pleasant or otherwise, the fact that your heart feels troubled is because she is already in your heart."
"Experience has taught me that like a cough you can't stop, love is something that comes out stronger when you try to hide it," Yue continued in a confident tone.
Xi Yang felt his goosebumps pop out of his skin at the mention of love, "Like a headache that you want to stop, like a disease that you need to flush out."
Xi Yang stared into Yue's eyes, "This is not love. My heart cannot love anymore."
Years ago, Yue would have been fazed. But not now. She smiled, "Xi Yang Gege, it's not because your heart cannot love anymore, it's because your heart has never loved."
Yu An finished her piece at this moment and both Yue and Xi Yang wordlessly clapped.
"The Dark Lord," both Wang Huan and An Hun knelt and greeted their father.
"Rise," The Dark Lord intoned in a smooth silky voice like a river caressing the mountain as it streams back to the sea. Wang Huan could tell her father was happy.
"I have opened a special wine in celebration of Wang Huan's return and royal engagement," The Dark Lord continued and gestured to the two cups that were already filled with a maroon liquid.
An Hun and Wang Huan quickly sipped it down.
"What does it taste like?" The Dark Lord asked.
"Nothing" - "Bitter"
An Hun and Wang Huan exchanged glances as the Dark Lord chuckled to himself, "You have grown, Wang Huan."
The Dark Lord filled up both their cups again and An Hun quickly tossed the wine in his mouth, but it still had no flavour.
The Dark Lord gave an almost cheeky grin to An Hun, "This wine is not tasted with your tongue, it is savoured with your heart."
The Dark Lord poured another round, "And, you have to drink it till it becomes sweet."
After several rounds, the wine remained bitter for Wang Huan and tasteless for An Hun. In fact, Wang Huan started to feel slightly tipsy.
It was then the Dark Lord decided to impart important news, "The Heavenly Empress has sent a carriage to pick you up. You will be staying in the Heavenly Realms for a month or so in preparation for the Royal Engagement Ceremony."
"Now?" Wang Huan said, startled despite her intoxicated state.
The tips of the Dark Lord's mouth widened, "Yes."
Although Wang Huan was already used to it - being as quickly dismissed as she was summoned by her father, she still felt her heart sink slightly.
Usually, Wang Huan would leave without a word, but perhaps it was because she drank too much so she asked a further question, "Will the Heavenly Empress like me?"
The Dark Lord chuckled as he looked into Wang Huan's eyes, "Wang Huan, you are much stronger than you think."
As if to prove that Wang Huan had no weight in Xi Yang's heart, Xi Yang did not return to the palace main hall to check on Wang Huan despite her continued absence. In truth, although Xi Yang was slightly puzzled at why Wang Huan did not go to the courtyard, he was not really worried since her tracer indicated that she was safely in the Inner Palace main hall.
When Yu An finally finished playing all her musical pieces, Xi Yang stood up and returned to the palace main hall to chide Wang Huan for likely falling asleep in her chair from having eaten too much.
But, there was only silence that greeted him when he reached.
Wang Huan's tracer was on two set of doll clothes on a table. There was a parchment next to it, "Thank you. I have to leave first. When the time comes, you can claim your promise from me with these two pairs of doll clothes. I made them myself, so don't lose them!"
The Heavenly Empress beamed as she received news that the Royal Princess Wang Huan was on her way in the royal carriage towards the Heavenly Realms. The Heavenly Empress was even happier when her personal maidservant also informed her that the Crown Prince Xi Yang had returned from his journey in eliminating some wild beasts from the Eastern Regions.
"Call him," The Heavenly Empress started to instruct her maidservant when the maidservant shook her head in terror.
"Your Highness, I don't know what has gotten into his Royal Highness, but his mood is so foul that all the heavenly trees that he passed by on his return to his palace incinerated immediately to ashes."
The Heavenly Empress shuddered, she knew her son's bad temper best. She decided she will not tell her son the Royal Princess had arrived - who knew what kind of foul first impression he would give? And, imagine if he incinerated her on sight!
The Heavenly Empress shook her head and told her maidservant to ensure the Royal Princess got the furthest residence from the Crown Prince and to not let the Crown Prince know that she had arrived.
*The song was translated/inspired by this chinese poem called Willow.
Comments: *Wipes sweat off brow* We have finished the first arc! I set the first arc in the mortal realms because it was foreign enough for Xi Yang and Wang Huan to get to know each other on fairly equal ground... the second arc moves into Xi Yang's home turf! Haha, of course, Xi Yang doesn't know Wang Huan is now in the Heavenly Realms and Wang Huan still doesn't know that Xi Yang is Ri... ah, the tangled web we weave!