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Chapter 1 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 The giggling noises of the carriage wheels rolling on the ground made me a little unhappy after having a noon nap. Those heavy, tailor made, royal wedding clothes were already taken off me for some time, and now only a fox cape covered me as outer clothing. I was really tired out from several days’ travel on this small carriage. “Bing’er, where are we?” I asked. “Here is Xizhou, my lady. During tonight’s rest, I will prepare all the wedding clothes and decorative wearings for you. Don’t worry.” I answered her with a groan. Who cared about the wearings? Even the marriage was not my own will. Marrying me to the Highness of Xiangdong was my father and older brother’s choosing. They asked for the Emperor’s imperial edict to marry me to a man born half blind.
The wedding ceremony of a Highness in a va.s.sal state to a formal wife was not simple, and even it could not compare to the wedding of the prince. Beyond the regular six steps of asking for the bride’s parents’ acceptance to marry their daughter, because it was a royal wedding, it still needed the Emperor issuing the imperial edict, his sending of a wedding officer, and a sacrifice to the royal ancestors.
All the complicated regulations wearied me to death. But when I found Mom’s expectant gaze, I signed and continued to follow them again. Mom wanted me to change my own fate and her position in the family by marrying him. My father was over fifty, and he had some more wives recently. How could my mom lead a peaceful life among all those beautiful, light-minded young girls?
In our tradition, we had no freedom of marriage. If I struggled in this tradition, I could lose my family. Good or bad, it was our fate. So it was better to let it be.
“Do be that disappointed, my lady. We had the ceremony in the Capital City of Jiankang. Have a good rest to be prepared.”
She guessed what I thought. I gave her a reluctant smile. “You have a better understanding of my situation. How about you take my place to marry the Highness?”
“Don’t laugh at me, my lady. You are a born royal and the Highness is someone many girls want. Besides, I heard that the Highness was clever and diligent, with talents in writing articles and political strategies. Maybe you can be a good couple.”
“Oh?” I smiled lightly. “He is blind in one eye. The one those ladies want to marry is the prince, who is talented and the potential Emperor.”
“Is it the prince you favored?”
I felt the fault of my complaining, and changed the topic. “The Mencious said, ‘The best way of keeping good health is to have less desires; less desires lead to contentment.’ He was reasonable.”
“I don’t understand. . .”
“Power and wealth can fly away as hawks do. People admire and pursue the lives of royal families, but who knows who can survive the battles among the royal families?”
The cold wind blew open the door curtain and Bing’er’s frozen face appeared with a surprised expression.
“This is your best day. Don’t think about this, my lady.”
I wanted to reply to her, but somebody screamed outside. “Ah . . . ” And then the wheels stopped.
Bing’er quickly entered the carriage and pulled the curtain tight. “The strong wind picked up a stone and it hit a maid, my lady. Lay down. I have asked the guards to protect you.”
The withering wind became stronger and I heard the sounds of people and horses fall to the ground. I frowned and lifted the curtain to look out.
The sky was dark and the leaves and falling tiles from the houses on both sides of the street were flying everywhere. I could see n.o.body on the street. Thunder suddenly roared and a heavy snow began to fall. Soon the road turned white. I had heard a saying once that it was a good thing if it snowed on the wedding date, but I was shocked by this strange and horrible scene. How could it prophesy anything good?
The soldiers were frozen by the cold.
“It was fine yesterday. How could it snow when we are near our destination?!” Bing’er murmured as she tightened the cape to warm me.
“s.h.i.+t! Here is a nun almost dying.”
I signed and ordered, “Bring her in, and prepare a bowl of ginger soup.”
“But . . .”
I know this was not suitable according to the wedding regulations. I was the wife of the Highness; how could a nun enter my carriage?
“Our Emperor believes in Buddhism. So do I. Any time is suitable for saving a person.” I remembered my Mom’s daily teaching to me. She would be proud of me if she heard this.
When the nun was brought to me, I took off my cape to cover her half-frozen body. After taking the hot ginger soup, she came back to life.
This was a young little nun, with curved eyebrows and a pair of beautiful eyes like blue lotus. When she saw me, she was surprised.
“This, master, is the formal concubine of the Highness of Xiangdong who saved you,” Bing’er explained to her.
I smiled at her. “Master, where are you traveling to? Why were you laying down on the road?”
She took a deep breath and chanted the name of Buddha, answering, “My name is Kongyue. I was sent by my master to explain the sutra in a temple of Jiangling City. When I came to this place, it abruptly snowed, and I felt an ache in my chest and pa.s.sed out. Thank you for saving my life, your highest.”
“You are so young, but you have the knowledge to explain the sutra to the temple. I respect your achievements in the belief.”
The master stared at me after that, and swallowed back some words.
“Anything?” I asked, and sent Bing’er away.
“Kongyue followed my master to prophesy people’s future by their appearance since my childhood. You had a bad future if you were male. But if you were a female . . . then the fate is different.”
“Just let me know honestly.”
“Since you have saved my life, I would rather give you my best advice. You should keep your heart with your husband and be careful of any woman related to the lotus. . .”
Keep my heart with my husband? I didn’t even know if he would have a heart for me. And I never feared any women who could become his concubines in the future. But lotus was my love.
“Did you ever dream of yourself in cold water and the icy water piecing your body like a blade?”
My heart fell when I heard this, because it had been my terrible nightmare many times. I felt like I was falling into the darkest h.e.l.l when the same dream visited me. If that was true, could she really predict my future?
“Is it my fate?” Kongyue did not answer me. I knew that was a fate of death. “Master, is this strange weather also a warning to me?”
Kongyue kept silent, and her expression of worry gave the honest answer.
“I know the destiny of royal families. Master, no need to bother. The downs will follow the ups. Who can enjoy a happy life to the end? Though I would like to become a monk like you to avoid the waves of romance, my family would not allow me.”
I never expected a happy ending with the seventh son of the Emperor.
She nodded and chanted again, giving back the cape to me, and then left.
She disappeared in the snow, leaving a string of footsteps. I could not take back my peaceful heart from sorrow.
She chose a road of the poor but cleansed. I had chosen another. Finally, I would miss my goal in life.
“Let’s move on,” I ordered Bing’er.
Though it seemed doom to be a hard path, I’d walk it by myself, to the end.
It was the winter of the Sixteenth Year of Tianjian.
During this time, the Northern Wei Dynasty happened to have a series of political turmoil. The Emperor Xuanwu died, and his mother Gao was put into prison. The mother of Emperor XiaoMing took power over the country and acted like an Emperor.
My marriage came during the battles between we of the Southern Liang Dynasty and the Northern Wei.