So here, we finally have the first chapter since I stopped procrastinating. -cough- So here, the narrators make a special introduction for themselves. See if you guys can guess what “Man” and “Woman” are supposed to represent~
A young woman stood in front of the yard, staring dully towards the grand golden entrance that leads to the unending abyss. Her dark hair, which was usually left long and loose, was coiled up tightly in a knot held up by a lotus hairpin. Her light green robes were pristine and meticulously clean.
The young woman had gathered up what little courage she had this morning to go to this dreaded place after spending months writing and revising the letter she scrunched up in her clammy hands from anxiety and fear.
She took one last glance around the familiar decorous room with polished floors ornamented with dragon and lion statues before making her way inside the palace.
After all, what right did she have to ask how well he has been doing after a few hundred years of separation?
One of the serving ladies saw the foreign woman and narrowed her onyx eyes at her.
“Well this is quite a surprise. I cannot seem to comprehend why the little traitor would show her face here on this good day.” The palace maid’s gentle voice obscured the hidden daggers in her tone.
The woman stared woodily at the servant and chose to ignore the snide comment.
“Is he present at the moment?” She asked.
“Who knows? He could be present here or he could have disappeared. He certainly never tells us anything.” The palace maid, whose name was Jia, looked out the window with hooded eyes. “But even then, it should not matter to you right? He could be dead and you would not even blink an eye would you? Since you were the one who gladly left years ago.”
The knot in the woman’s stomach squirmed and her lips tightened into a thin line.
With a deep breath, she asked waveringly, “May I go see him?”
Jiao snapped her head back in the young woman’s direction. “You think you can just ask to see him whenever you please after what you did to him? What ever for?”
She was not surprised with Jiao’s reaction. Jiao worked for and is part of the Northern people. Their central control system had a knack for brain-washing their citizens so the foreign Southern woman will always be the one that has to feel the guilt. Jiao did not look as if she would relent to the woman’s request so easily without a good reason. But if she revealed why she needed to give the man a visit, Jiao was sure to use her rather skilled martial arts to kick her out of the golden palace.
“It is for an important matter concerning the future between our two nations. I do not expect you to believe me nor do I need you to for I don’t trust your people either, but it is essential that I see your master.”
Jiao stared long and hard at the woman to see if she was up to anything suspicious. The servant’s wary eyes then glanced down at her hand which contained the crumpled scroll.
“What is in that scroll?” Jiao demanded.
“That would be none of you concern.” The woman answered just as chillingly.
“Jiao, that is enough.” A male voice called out from one of the corridors. His familiar physique turned to face me indifferently. Heng Hui; he was one of the master’s well-revered generals; known to have won his men many battles.
The familiar cold feeling overwhelmed the woman when a flash of Heng Hui in bright red, shining armor struck down one of her army captain with a swift slash of his sword. The image of a middle aged man’s blood splattering all over the place and collapsing to the ground appeared in front of her. He would never see his wife and children ever again.
“You may follow me if you wish to see the master.” Heng Hui said and turned to disappear down the halls. The scroll in her hand continued to be clamped as she followed wordlessly.
Heng Hui stopped in front of a pair of massive stone doors. He did a few hand signs before pushing a hidden button with two iron fingers. Behind the stone doors was another room structured with bamboo screens.
“My lord?” Heng Hui called out. “The missus has arrived.”
The woman paused. It would seem they were expecting her after all.
“Send her in.” A deep masculine voice replied from behind the screens.
Inside the room was the familiar continuous faint smell of jasmine and herbs. Potted plants and lanterns were placed here and there with exquisite taste. Scrolls and paperwork were scattered all over the floor. A man was seated behind a low wooden desk; a writing brush in his left hand danced on the piece of ivory parchment resulting in black shapes and strokes.
The two were silent for a moment, neither party was willing to be the first one to speak. The woman took this time to let the man’s presence process over her.
His silky long black hair was tied loosely behind him, his black robes were wrinkled; a sign of not having got up from his seating spot for many days. The man’s inked brows furrowed slightly, concentrating on the work on his desk.
“Well? Is there a reason why you are suddenly here after all this time?” The woman snapped out of her thoughts when he spoke. She quickly collected herself.
“Yes. I needed to give you this.” She handed him the little scroll.
His white elegant fingers lingered her light tanned ones before taking the rolled up paper from her hands. The two different skin tones contrasted greatly. The woman pretended the colliding touch never happened.
Upon reading over the scroll, there was a strange look that came over the man’s eyes before looking at the young woman in front of him.
He rubbed his chin before musing, “You…traveled miles all the way here for this. You are that eager to leave me?”
“The whole ordeal had to be finalized sooner or later. I prefer it sooner.” She answered without a hint of remorse. This tough outlook she is putting up was obviously a facade. Even she knew.
He did not say anything in response. Was that too harsh? Surprisingly, guilt started to bloom from beneath her.
No! She thought to herself. She must not feel any emotions towards him. Not any more.
The woman forced any feelings of discomfort away.
“Well…I will take my leave now.” She said before turning around awkwardly to take her leave.
“Halt.” Came the sharp command. She whipped her head around.
The young man considered what he wanted to say as he tapped his slender fingers on the desk.
“My lord, I really need to go-” The foreign lady began, but was interrupted.
“Stay here for the night, lady.”
“…I do not think that is a good idea.” She made her way to leave again, but was once again stopped.
“You are a woman.”
“And your point is?” She narrowed her dark eyes at him as she turned around again.
“The trip you took from Yuenan to Nanjing must have taken days. Whether you want to hear it or not, as a female, the toll on you will be greater than that of mans.” The man explained calmly.
“It doesn’t matter. If I traveled this far on the way here, I can travel all the way back perfectly well.” She retorted stubbornly.
The man leisurely smile at this and put his brush down.
“What is the point of you making your way back now at a time like this? At least stay for two nights to recover your strength. We will provide an abundance of supplies for your journey back. Is that not killing two birds with one stone?”
“I am grateful, but two nights?!” She tried to protest. “If you try anything I swear…”
He remained unmoved. “Besides, it is dangerous to go this late. The world is not without its evil people. There are ravenous creatures of all shapes and sizes ready to attack, especially at night. I promise I will not do anything to you, miss. I only request that you receive my protection.”
She looked into his serene black eyes, his soft smile was unreadable. To this day, she despises that her heart still lets a flutter at the sight of him. The man she had known for thousands of years and pined for was still as regal and magnificent as ever. Even his rumpled clothes and hair paled in comparison to his handsome countenance.
Oh, how she loathes him.
She looked hopelessly at the scroll he left on the ground beside him. Her counselors and advisers helped her prepare it so that she can be rid of him for good.
She was never able to argue against his logic and intelligence years ago and she was not about to win one now. In the end, the master’s servants prepared a room be made for the woman.
~ ~ ~ ~
The sun had finally set and darkness filled the skies. There was no moon that night.
Sitting on the edge of her bed, the woman inevitably thought of the time when she was still under that man’s rule. She had almost forgotten how it came to be that he ruled over her. Perhaps it was because he pitied her and the “barbarians” and wanted to give them some civilization like his court people always said to her face? Or was it truly from the kindness of his heart after having saved her and her brothers when they were being attacked by the Mongols. The man’s further actions in the later centuries proved otherwise, however, with the evidence of how her people was treated. The woman still was not sure if she regretted his colonization. It helped her people advanced over time after all, but one thing she knew was that if she could go back in time to take back any feelings she ever had for him, she most certainly would. He never made her call him “Shifu” or master. They had always referred to each other by their respective names and that was it. She never questioned the reasoning behind it, but she was glad she never got to call him Shifu.
It would have been too strange now with the circumstances the way it is.
She was not a graceful woman and was notorious for being unsightly and clumsy. Standing next to the fair and beautiful ladies of the North, she was like brown clay in comparison.
One time, the man was conversing with some economic and political matters with a few other men from neighboring cities outside near a lake. Lotus flowers and lilies grew from beneath the waters. The scenery was alike to that of a painted canvas.
She was just coming home from the farm work he asked her and her people to do for the sake of selling rice. Excited to tell him about her people’s progress, she accidentally overheard a part of his fellow men’s conversation instead when she arrived there.
“The Southern country is quite useful ain’t it? If only its civilians were not so rebellious towards us, the South of Yuenan would be the perfect tool. We were the one who brought them out of their vulgar barbaric habits. They ought to be more grateful.” The person who spoke was a man from Hangzhou.
“They are useful, yes.” The man responded evenly. Her heart gave a lurch hearing that. She clenched the straw hat on her head and looked down.
The woman thought of how she was so painfully naive back then. She would actually believed that if she was more useful to the man and continued to benefit him, perhaps he would notice her more and reciprocate the love she had for him.
“But look, she immediately had her people grow rice for you with just a little wave of your order. Are you not proud of having saved the girl years back when she was attacked? Because of your kind actions, she follows you everywhere!” Another man from Chengdu pointed out.
She held her breath. Did it annoy him that she followed him all the time?
“Gentlemen, no matter how silly she seems to you, you must not underestimate her. Although if you really want her, I will give her to you. It will be one headache off my back. Prepare for her to put up a good fight, however, as she is stubborn and hard-headed when she wants to be.” The man looked as if what he said was some sort of inside joke.
The other two men also gave him looks of amusement. She wanted to defend herself of being a headache, but somehow, she tripped over her own feet and ended up pushing the man and they both fell into the lake. She was pretty sure none of them realized she was listening quietly behind them the whole time.
The woman still remembered what the man said after the incident.
“Gentlemen, did I not say that an honorable and respected man like me who represents the nation would find my downfall literally by this headache beside me? Only, you all probably did not think it would be this wet!”
Her face was red with shame and embarrassment the entire day.
The woman let out a bitter chuckle to herself. In the midst of the night where the cicadas happily sang, she heard a knock on her door.
Upon opening the door, she came face to face with no other than the master of the Golden palace and the nation.
He looked more refined and fresh tonight. He changed his black robes into a pair of white ones, and his hair was loose trailing behind him. He looked like he wanted to say something, but could only stare at her.
She had also bathed and changed into her sleeping clothes.
Even after all these years, he could see that her simple habits remained the same.
“Did you need something?” She asked softly. He seemed to consider his words carefully before speaking.
Years ago, they would always talk freely with each other. She would enthusiastically throw tantrums when she does not get her way and he would “show the girl her place” when asked to be taught the remarkable Northern martial arts often reserved only for men which often resulted with her laying on the ground under his feet in a blink of an eye.
“Could you please…go on a walk with me this night?” The man finally asked.
The young woman stared blankly at him. His challenging eyes anticipated her reaction. She knew that he knew that she was thinking of backing down to avoid any more encounters with him than necessary and she withheld her stance.
As they were strolling down the street in awkward silence, the man turned to ask her.
“Woman, how have you been living all these years?”
“I have been well enough. My country is running smoothly and we do not have to think of worrying about famine or lack of shelter. Only that we have to be cautious lest we get invaded again.” She gave him a pointed look and he laughed. “I have grown more independent and do not have to rely on people nor do I need to have anyone rely on me to pay tribute to their royalties and citizens anymore. We are free.”
“It would seem leaving me was a good thing for you after all.” The woman could not figure out his tone, but the mirth on his face was less than before.
“Yes, Man. It was a very good thing.” She said quietly and looked away. The street noise and delicious food aroma was blurred out by each of their individual thoughts.
The man stopped in his tracks and looked at her deeply.
“Woman, are you going to ask how I have been all this time?” Was it just her imagination or did his voice get more hoarse? She gave a sigh.
“Man, what is your purpose in bringing me out here? Was it just to ask me all these pointless questions?” She forced herself to say. The woman did not want to get personal with him any longer nor rekindle the feelings she had fought so hard to destroy for so long. What was left between them was severed years ago. Now, between the two of them, they were nothing to each other but wary business partners.
“You say that so casually, but I have to wonder if you really are as unfeeling as you make yourself out to be right now.”
He gave a sardonic smile as he took a step towards her. She instinctively took a step back. It did not escape his notice.
“Do you remember? Do not let yourself into believing your own lie that there is nothing between us and the two nations. Not just you, but your people as well. You and I both know that you are more involved with me than you think and the harm you have caused me…”
“My debt has been repaid.” She began.
“You can never repay me.” He took a lock of her hair and slowly ran his fingers through the strands.
“…What?” The woman asked bewilderingly and he looked up at the sky. His hands clasped behind his back. The aloof and unreachable man she knew years had never looked so lonely.
“Nothing you do can ever repay me. Nothing can ever compensate for betrayal after all that I had done for you.”
Betrayal? She was the one who betrayed him? No, that was definitely not how she saw it. That was not how things had been.
“This walk had been a mistake. I will leave first thing tomorrow morning.” She turned around and ran back to the palace.
The man stood there motionlessly as she disappeared into the night.
~ ~ ~ ~
Italics are for flashbacks, thoughts and emphasized words. Please comment below and tell me what you think of the first chapter. I admit, this was a really boring chapter to write, but I promise, the fun second chapter will come out next week. A new character shall be introduced.