3: Secret rendezvous, outside the trappings
Wendy knew what the agitation of waiting could bring. She knew how the desired end to that timeless insanity felt like a free fall that would never come even though she knew it inevitably would. Her mind would create agitation as it would question the laws of physics in an illogical thought process.
Time never stopped, slowed, sped or leapt. It always moved in a constant manner. Embracing its consistence was an impossible task.
The passage of time was always consistent.
The passage of time after being filtered through one’s heat wasn’t.
And this moment, with the awkward silence ringing sadistically in her ears, felt like an eternity. Amethyst bored into endless blue, she waited, breathed, and watched; he stared back, his chest rising and falling rapidly. To them, time was put on pause.
Waiting. Both had different thoughts harbored in their minds and wanted something from each other, yet none ever attempted to make that request.
Instead, they waited and waited. For something to change, for the silk to melt into their skin, or for the tatami pad stacked together neatly on the table to catch on fire, or the stars to fall out of the sky they couldn’t see from inside this room.
They waited for the silence to end so all the masks could be torn off; so everything would be laid down on the table. It was then a quiet knock on the wooden door shattered the heavy silence between them, directing their attentions towards the silhouette projected onto the paper screen door.
Andy’s grip on his sword tightened and Wendy eyed him to settle down and lay down on the bed, at the same time cover himself up with the bed sheets while she made her way across the room to see who it was.
Opening the paper screened door, a sullen young face came into view. The girl was no older than fifteen. Her long hair like the finest ebony were braided into two buns and pinned in place with two red ribbons. Her eyes were the rarest color of scarlet red, reminding Wendy of the color of the dusk.
The girl’s eyes widened slightly as she looked up at Wendy’s face but it was gone as soon as it surfaced. Sullen and somewhat defiant, she bowed to Wendy reluctantly and held out a box stiffly, gesturing Wendy to take it.
Wendy put on her charming smile and muttered a quick thanks to the red-eyed girl, but she dashed away quickly as soon as the packaged she was told to deliver landed into Wendy’s hand. Chuckling to herself softly in light amusement, Wendy watched the young girl scampering away as if she had just seen a monster and shook her head.
Closing the door behind her, Wendy brought the package to Andy’s bed. “Here, clean up that wound of yours and put on this new kimono.” She started to take out the different things in the package, the new kimono, bandages, and some herbs to clean up his wound with.
“Get read fast and we’re leaving as soon as you’re done. Taira no Eriol will come back for another round of search soon, for sure, and my plan won’t work again.”
Andy nodded in reply. Just when he was about to take off his blood drenched kimono, he flickered a glance up at Wendy unsurely and Wendy immediately understood that he wanted some privacy. Getting up and straightening out the wrinkled fabric of her kimono, Wendy headed for the door.
But before she left, she heard a hushed apology. “I’m sorry.” It made her pause for just the briefest moment before she proceeded on with what she was doing a moment ago. She knew he felt guilty for not giving her the antidote she wanted so badly, but he had his reason too.
She was his only ticket out of Heian-kyou. And she helped him, not out of the kindness of her heart, but because her life was in his hand. Used and being used was what they were. Thus, words of apology weren’t needed. Both of them were merely following the rules of the game of survival.
Andy watched her disappear out of the door and found himself staring at the empty space of where she once was unblinkingly. The seemingly fragile boy kept on surprising him with everything he did and a part of Andy really admired the boy for his quick wittiness and ability to stay calm even in a life and death situation.
The boy was almost… whimsical in a sense. One minute he was smiling brightly and chatting away about the most casual things, and the next minute he could be oppressive and icy cold. So many phases at the same time…and Andy wondered which one represented the real him.
Like deep, still water, there was no way to tell how much the stone had sunk. Likewise, there was no way to know how far one had waded with the boy before the signs became blaringly obvious.
Grinning faintly, Andy undressed himself and began to clean up his cuts.
Sketchy lines drawn by their long shadows cast upon the empty road far from the main entrance gates of Heian-Kyou. They left through the main gates which were guarded by many Taira Clan soldiers, yet none dared to stop them for a check up.
Wendy carried the wooden card which had the Kanji characters of “Taira” carved onto it, and those soldiers knew that only a member from the Taira family had such a card. They respectfully stepped aside and allowed Wendy and a cross-dressed Andy pass through without further questioning.
After all, no one would expect a Taira family member aiding their biggest enemy in his escape.
Right after they exited Heian-Kyou, Andy poured out some water from his water bag and washed off the heavy make up on his face with much disgust, then stripped off the female kimono in which he was forced to wear, since according to Wendy, no one would ever suspect him in that form.
It was a direct blow to his pride and dignity, but he had to do it. A part of him regretted getting onto Wendy’s bad side and he was almost sure that Wendy did it out of vengeance. But then again, Wendy did keep her words of getting him out of Heian-Kyou safely.
He stole another quick glance at Wendy who was standing a few meters away from him and who was waiting patiently for him. Her hands were cupped together gracefully at her back as she stared into the velvety sky. There existed the span of stars – a blurred image of elegant, dull spectacles and a tight smile.
He didn’t know what was on the card she showed to those soldiers, but the way the soldiers stepped aside so quickly and respectfully confirmed his suspicion of her background. She had to be from one of the wealthy and powerful aristocratic families in Heian-Kyou.
But the last name “Ryuichi” didn’t ring a bell in his head. Probably a pseudonym…but then again, it was quite understandable that she wanted to keep her name confidential. But a part of him really wanted to know who she was.
Pushing aside the thought, Andy approached where Wendy stood and halted into a stop when she looked at him with her head cocked slightly to the right. She kept her end of the bargain, and now it was his time to keep his end of it.
Taking out his sword and sliding the blade across his finger tip, the scarlet liquid gushed out of the small wound almost immediately. A few droplets fell onto the ground. “This is the antidote to the poison.” He explained, holding up his hand.
Wendy narrowed her eyes slightly. The antidote was right under her nose all along. And all along, she thought it was something that was very hard to get even if she used Eriol’s power to get it. Swerving around to face him fully, Wendy ambled over to where he was and leaned forward.
The awful taste of blood entered her mouth. She wanted to cough it out but told herself that it was the only thing that could save her life.
When her soft lips touched his fingertip, Andy felt a spark of some sort jolting through his body. He gawked at her, from her perfect complexion to her chin and down her creamy white neck—and she had no Adam’s apple!
Even though she had a small and slender form, Andy was almost certain that she was boy in her late teens. Andy’s eyes popped wide open as he grabbed onto her elbow almost excitedly. “You-you are not a-man?” He stammered out the question.
Wendy cringed in pain and tried to break away from his tight grasp. “Of course I’m not, I never said I was one.”
But he didn’t mind the implicit sarcasm in her voice, instead, his grin only enlarged. Wendy frowned a little and titled her head upward, when her eyes aligned with his, she saw him grinning at her like an thrilled and overjoyed little boy.
“Don’t get too overjoyed yet, the soldiers are still guarding the gates which isn’t too far from here. If you don’t want to die, I suggest you go right now.” She mistook his happiness as success of his escape and warned.
“Right.” He nodded quickly, but the bright smile was unwavering. “I’ll be back.” He vowed quietly, as if to himself, and Wendy raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll be back, for sure.” He repeated, but with more persistence this time as if he was trying to convince her and left. But before that, he gave her one last look, almost lingering in a sense.
She watched him take off and disappearing into the night like a wanderer of the darkness. Rubbing her tired temples, she was ready to call it a night. Wendy headed back to the gates of Heian-Kyou and for the household and take on her sister’s identity again.
She didn’t take his words seriously when he vowed that he would come back one day, but she was soon to be proved wrong.
It is the deep breath before the plunge
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
Time fleeted by like the careless breeze. The moment was already gone before one could realize it. As the river of time continued down an unknown path towards the verge of forever, each day, each minute and each second became a part of history – a part of people’s memories.
Rita carried a bucket of water with much difficulty and was shakily making her way to where Wendy lived. The wintry chills seeped through the thin material of her kimono and sent shivers down her spine. It was cold alright and her fingers were numbed from the pervasive coldness of Heian-Kyou’s harsh winter.
Still struggling, Rita kept her eyes on the bucket of water and her path to ensure nothing would spill onto the well-polished wooden floor. She didn’t want to be called clumsy because anything she did wrong would be blamed on Wendy, simply because she was Miss Wendy’s lady-in-waiting. And she already hard enough horrible untrue things said about Miss Wendy already and had no intention of worsening it.
Her hasty footsteps slowed down and eventually halted into a stop as she approached Wendy’s room. The narrow ramp that exuded from the compound seemed like an endless road, leading towards an almost magical place embraced by mysteriousness and a rare soul-calming tranquility.
This part of the compound belonged to Wendy only. Only such beautiful place could suit her. It brought out Miss Wendy’s inner concinnous demeanor. And sometimes she wondered why Miss Wendy wanted to hide her true self like this and gave the Taira family a twisted and distorted image of herself.
Upon sliding open the wooden paper screened door, Rita’s gaze swept across the dimly lit room and settled down upon the beautiful woman who was half sitting on the tatami pad and leaning against the wall, with a book in her hand. Her long purple hair cascaded over her shoulder like the finest silk as she immersed herself in her reading.
“Miss Wendy,” Rita called out quietly, interrupting the peaceful tranquility and her soft voice resonated in the air. She slowly lowered the heavy bucket of water to ground level and let go only until she was sure that its bottom touched the ground safely.
When she tilted her head toward Wendy’s direction, she saw Wendy looking up at her, smiling elegantly and warmly as ever. Her eyes fell upon the book as she paused for a minute, as if uncertain of what she was going to say.
But she went ahead anyway. “Miss Wendy, pardon my rudeness and I know it’s not my place to suggest such thing, but you should go out a bit more like the other ladies of the house.” Rita suggested while her crafty hands worked to pour out some of the now tepid warm water into a small round-ish looking metallic bowl.
“Hmm?” Wendy drawled, playing with the book in her hand idly as she listened on, curious of what her lady-in-waiting had to say.
“Like going to the temple to pray, or participate in ladies’ tea parties or something like that.” Explained Rita, elaborating on what she thought a high-class lady like Wendy should do during her spare time. Getting up, she brought the metallic bowl to Wendy.
“Oh? You think I should hang out with those bored ladies with nothing to do other than fighting for who’s the prettiest and who’s more loved by their husbands?” Wendy raised an eyebrow with evident mockery in her eyes as she asked cynically, her eyes boring straight into Rita’s.
Rita bit her lower lip hard and frowned resentfully as she said indignantly. “But Miss Wendy, you don’t know what those people are saying about you in these days! I over heard it from the servant girls and they were saying how you’re not pretty or healthy because you’re always in your room and that once you die-”
Rita’s eyes widened to twice its original size and covered her mouth hastily as a preventative measure to stop herself from blurting out anything else ourtrageous. Regret quickly flashed in her eyes, overriding the indignation Wendy saw earlier. She mentioned the word death, which was considered very lucky by the buddists.
“…once I die from some incurable disease Lord Eriol would be able to take another ‘more suitable’ woman’s hand am I right?” Wendy slowly finished her sentence, looking as calm as ever as if she was merely narrating someone else’s fate.
Letting her gaze fall to the ground, Rita bit her lower lip and remained silent. She heard a cold scoff from Wendy and stole a quick glance at her from the corners of her eyes, there she saw Wendy smiling again. Puzzled, Rita didn’t understand the sudden change of expression on Wendy’s visage.
Did she find the whole thing amusing or something like that? Rita couldn’t help but wonder and frown in slight disapproval.
The gossips and rumors were flying around the house like aimless arrows. Everyone knew about it. Everyone gossiped about it behind closed doors. Perhaps Miss Wendy was misunderstanding the seriousness of this situation because the rumors weren’t just spreading around the house, but were also spreading in Heian-Kyou like a pandemic disease.
Just the other day someone was trying to tie the red string between the younger sister of Heian-Kyo’s number one beauty and Lord Eriol. (Tie the red string is a saying similar to the western expression of “cupid’s arrow of love”, used when someone’s try match make two people).
“You’re worrying too much Rita. Those are just rumors. People like to gossip about others because they’re so pathetic themselves that they need to make other looks bad in order to make themselves look better. You don’t have to take the things they say seriously. All you gotta do is turn on a blind eye and pretend it’s just the wind hissing like a wild cat.
Don’t stress over such insignificant things especially when you know it’s not true. As long as you know it’s not true, Lord Eriol knows it’s not true, then what’s there to worry about?” Wendy smiled assuringly at Rita, patting her on the head a little. She knew Rita was concerned about her image and how Eriol would react when he heard about these things because this could potentially lower her status in the house.
A woman’s status and power was directly proportional to how much attention her husband would gave her. And for a man to pay attention to a woman, he must be attracted to her and like her.
But Rita didn’t know about the deal she made with Eriol. It didn’t matter if Eriol loved her or not, or whether he pays attention to her. Her status as the great Taira No Eriol’s first lady would not be changed so easily, and if ever, at all. This was his promise to her. And at the same time, he had promised to indulge many of the things she did as long as they weren’t too over the line.
So everything was good at this moment. “Cheer up and help me get dressed.”
Rita sighed inwardly and knew she shouldn’t dwell on something Miss Wendy said she shouldn’t worry about. Nodding respectfully, she took out the make up box from the closet, though somewhat reluctantly. The smile on Wendy’s face never waned as she watched the divinely beautiful woman in the mirror turn into a ghostly white woman with almost hideous make up.
Her intention was never “fall in love with her husband”, thus it didn’t matter what he thought of her. As long as she still enjoyed the privilege she had at the moment, she could care less what he thought and did when she wasn’t around.
Love wasn’t necessary when one had great powers.
You should visit her more often even though she’s ill in bed all the times. The words of his Mother’s advice rang in his ears as he made his way down the meandering long hallway that was leading towards the foreign place which he had only been to once–his so-called wife’s compound.
He never saw her again after the night of their wedding. She didn’t want to see him, and he didn’t want to see her. She kept her end of the bargain, which was leave him alone, and he would keep his end of it which was make sure no one bothers her and the best way of doing it was to announce to the world that she suffer from a long term illness.
Arriving at her bedroom’s door, Eriol paused for a moment, but entered anyway.
“Nataly,” he tried her name on his tongue. It was the first time he ever called her by her first name, it felt somewhat strange and awkward to him but he didn’t know any other term he could call her with.
The word came out as a soft echo, almost sounded as if he knew her all his life. Wendy turned slightly, looking over her shoulder with a somewhat surprised look in her eyes. But it quickly disappeared as soon as it surfaced. She put on her trademark smile and got up obediently like the perfect wife to welcome his arrival.
“Master Eriol, please excuse my rudeness of not welcoming you at the door. Rita should’ve notified me.” She lowered her head and bowed to him. Even though it sounded as if she had blamed Rita, but he could tell it was just polite act that she had put up for him.
“Don’t worry about it.” Eriol brushed it off nonchalantly and looked around and came to a strange conclusion. “How come I don’t see any servants or ladies in waiting around?” He questioned with perplexity evident in his eyes.
“I’m not really used to having too many people wandering around me all the times. Besides, Rita is my lady-in-waiting and she serves me really well, so I didn’t see the need to have too many people around.” Wendy explained cap-in-hevndly.
“I see.” Eriol nodded lightly in acknowledgement and bought her reason. He flashed a quick glance at her and saw her with her head low again. Even though she seemed fragile on the outside, but his gut instincts told him that she was who she seemed to be.
She only had one servant girl around – a servant girl she brought from her family – was enough to show that she didn’t trust people easily and that she was enough smart to know that trusting people easily could potentially be the end of her in a deceptive place like this.
But it didn’t mean he couldn’t keep an eye on her either. As long as she didn’t do anything too extreme, he would turn on a blind eye and indulge it all. After all, it was his promise to her. “One lady-in-waiting is too little, you should at least have one more around to serve you in this compound.”
Even though she seemed calm and elegant on the outside, her fingernails were digging into the flesh of her palm underneath the cover of long kimono sleeves. Wendy wasn’t stupid enough to think that he was just being a caring husband.
He wanted to add one more servant to this peaceful compound because he wanted to keep an eye on her every move, implying he didn’t trust her entirely and she should be cautious of her actions. He was indirectly warning her not to step over the line.
Tightening her fists, she forced herself to smile thankfully. “I really appreciate this Lord Eriol but the last thing I want to do is to worry you with my unimportant business.” He glanced at her and lifted the corners of his mouth just slightly. It appeared to be a harmless smile, but somewhat it sent shivers down Wendy’s spine.
He really wasn’t someone to be taken lightly. She concluded.
Ever since he set his foot through her door, her mind raced at the speed of light as she tried to figure out a legitimate reason of his sudden visit. She just couldn’t think of anything that could’ve caused him to come over to her place and have these little seemingly harmless chats with her.
Well looks like she would just have to wait around and see what he had installed for her. Enlarging her obedient and gentle smile, she offered him to sit. After all, she was the perfect host and she would never show her fears or doubts to anymore.
Being the master of pretense wasn’t easy, but she was intelligent enough to hold her mask in place, and so was he.
She watched him carefully as he took a seat, and sat down herself as well. “Please make yourself comfortable here. And what kind of tea would you like to have? I’ll call Rita over to prepare it for you.” Wendy offered, and just when she was about to get up, he gestured to remain where she was.
“It’s alright, I just came to let you know that I’ll be leaving for a few months to train some of the Taira clan soldiers to prepare them for future prevention of attempted assassinations of the emperor.” Eriol explained vaguely, eyes set on afar.
“The previous assassination already stirred fears in Heian-Kyou and we were the ones to blame for allowing that assassin escape right when he was underneath our noses.”
Of course she remembered it. Taira no Kiyomori, Eriol’s Father, thought his one stone for two birds plan was brilliant, but he never thought of the possibility that SHE would be involved in this underlying political struggle. Thus, he was forced to announce that the assassin escaped and call for a massive search and make the entire event public.
Wendy nodded and listened quietly while she scrutinized his handsome features from the corners of her eyes. She didn’t know if it was the affect of the room’s shadowing that made him appear so unreadable and mysterious, or if this was the way he is. In a way, he reminded her of a deep bottomless abyss.
“Please becareful Lord Eriol, and I’ll be praying for your safety while you’re away.” She replied understandingly, acting her role of the perfect loving wife. He nodded at her in satisfaction and let a serene silence wash over the two of them.
The way he described his journey was extremely vague and made it sound insignificant. But Wendy knew there was more than that to it. This was just the peaceful and calming stage before the arrival of a raging storm.
Looks like chaos is going to embrace Heian-kyou pretty soon. She thought to herself almost amusingly. In a way, it sounded extremely ironic to her because the name Heian meant Peace, but this place was far more dangerous and scheming than any other place in Japan.
Unlike the other women who prayed for peace, she wanted war. She looked forward to the start of a war that was going to change Heian-Kyou forever.
Because she remembered clearly: in the midst of chaos, only heroes could arise from the ashes and only the rule of survival of the fittest would apply. Status didn’t matter anymore, only true talents could take one to a greater height.
But then again, this state of anarchy could either make one or destroy one, and she intended on making it to the top.
With Minamoto No Yoshitsune escaping and meeting up with his brother, it was only a matter of time before they revolt against the Emperor. To take out the emperor they must first get rid of the Taira family because only through the downfall of the powerful Taira family could they finally claim the throne.
Well… it was the battle for the ultimate power. life was finally getting more interesting. She mused to herself. This was her chance to shine and she would not miss it.
“Anyway, Mother wants to speak to you about this, which is part of the reason why I came here to inform you on it. She has this talk with every single woman married into this family and let them understand that we’re a family of samurai generals, and it is our job to protect Japan and its leader so it is only natural for us to be a way for long periods of time sporadically when it is needed.”
This snapped Wendy out of her thoughts. She never really wanted to social or interact with the people in this family, unless she had to, and this seemed like one of the moments when she had to put on her obedient and serene smile and be as fake as she could.
“Perhaps I should go right now, it’s not polite to make the lady of the house wait.” Wendy suggested, one hand pressing against the floor to pull herself up as gracefully as possible. But what she really meant was: I want to get this over with.
Eriol, being the gentleman he was, automatically held out an aiding hand. She gave him somewhat surprised and doubtful look but took it anyway.
When their fingertips touched, Eriol felt a familiar spark bolting through his body and his eyes widened slightly. Lowering his head a little bit, his piercing gaze paralleled with the beautiful hand resting on his palm.
The breath he inhaled in a moment ago was caught in his throat as he stared and stared at it as if his penetrating eyes were trying to puncture through the smooth pale skin.
Her skin was soft and cream, just like the last time he had touched it, though unintentionally. And Eriol was struck to a realization. He couldn’t be wrong and was rarely wrong, but this time, he almost wished that he was wrong, because it was none other than that “boy’s” hand he was holding at this moment.
Secret rendezvous, outside the trappings of time
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
Stunned for a moment there as if time was placed on pause, and as if all the motions in the world were frozen in place like a still water color painting, Eriol stared down at the beautiful hand resting on the callused surface of his palm. His lips parted slightly.
Sharp, cat-like amber eyes traced the contours of those delicate long fingers from their polished tips their other end. He flickered up a glance at her, aligning their visions. He saw confusion and surprise flash briefly in her eyes – so briefly that his eyes barely caught it.
In the depths of her amethyst orbs, like an endless and boundless sea of purple, Eriol found the same pride and fierce indignation he saw in the “boy’s” eyes. Even with the heavy make up and distractive thick eyeliner in place, he still saw the resemblance in their ethereal features.
So she was that “boy” – that mysterious, exceptionally beautiful boy with a captivating, unwavering smile regardless of the predicament “he” was in. Feeling a small smile blooming on his lips, Eriol let go of her hand and gave her a lingering look before turning away to take the lead.
This was getting interesting, and his gut instincts were proven to be right once again. She wasn’t whom she appeared to be, but so wasn’t he. Having an obedient wife who would do anything as he asked would be boring. This way was somewhat better. It adds more excitement to life, in a sense. Besides, as long as she didn’t do anything too overboard, he didn’t see the problem of sticking his nose into the things she does during her own time.
Once Wendy saw him turning his back on her, she felt suddenly it was easier to breath again. She didn’t like his aura. It was too oppressive and cryptic. She didn’t like it when she didn’t know much about him. The guessing game was fun, but only to a certain extent. Passing that point it would become frustrating.
She wasn’t very fond of his eyes either. There was just something about them that simply irked her to no end. Like Infinite amber glistening with a hint of mischief and iciness — such beautiful contradicting elements clashing into one – it spelled out danger.
Specially that smile of his, although she saw it more as a faint smirk, as if he was snickering about a joke that only he knew about, and most likely, the joke would be on her. But more importantly, under his intensive and penetrating gaze, she always felt like her façade would crack and fall apart.
“Princess Lilia what are you doing?!”
The tip of the brush came into a messy, faltering stop, while the ink continued to bleed an ugly splotch on the mesmerizing watercolor painting, and it was right in the center of it too. Lilia looked up from her ruined painting, which was actually a portrait of the young man with ethereal beauty – the one that captured her heart with a warm smile and a pair of brilliant amethyst purple eyes.
Startled and greatly annoyed by what she would call a rude interruption, she narrowed her fire-like eyes into slits and cast up a glance at the old-aged man in front of her. He held onto his long silver stranded beard for a brief moment as if he was contemplating over a very sophisticated philosophical theory, and ran his fingers through it slowly.
Lilia knew this gesture very well, unfortunately. She stifled an impatient sigh, “What is it this time? Did I do something horrifically wrong that disgraced the royal family or did I fail again as the last princess of the Tang Dynasty?” She challenged, struggling hard to keep her voice from rising with anger.
“Princess Lilia,” he sighed, sounding tired, the shadows that cast upon his aged face masked his eyes and made his expression almost unreadable. “The Tang Dynasty fell when you were just a baby.”
”While the entire loyal family was massacred by the rebels, the Empress, your Mother, asked me to fled the country and raised you as my own daughter until the you are old enough to understand the responsibility that lies on your shoulders.” A hiatus, as he recalled those unforgettable events.
”You are the last princess of Tang Dynasty—and the only one that can revive it again. China right now is in the midst of the greatest chaos that have ever embraced this ancient country, and it will be your duty to gather the pieces together again, and fulfill your destiny as the ruler of the revived Tang!”
Snorting at the last comment which she had heard at least a hundred times already ever since she found out about her true identity, Lilia furrowed her eyebrows. “I’m not meant for this job. I can’t run a country, and look at the current state China is in right now, how on earth am I going to revive what’s already been destroyed into pieces?”
Lilia exhaled, slow and controlled. It was becoming hard to keep her voice level.
“I will assist you in fulfilling your destiny, as I have sworn to the Empress; we are safe in Japan at this moment, and I’ve been gathering men and sending off well-trained spies back to China to be updated on what is happening in China.” He explained, like he had done so many times before.
The Tang fell apart; the royal family was exterminated; they’ve been hiding in Japan ever since she was a baby and running this stupid Chinese-styled tavern to collect funds for their ultimate plan. Like it was ever going to work. Lilia laughed bitterly in her mind.
Shang Guan Yun stared down at the rebellious teen, and shook his head slightly. She used to be bright and obedient, until the time he told her the truth about her identity. It was then she became defiant, bitter, distant, cold, silent, and full of resentment.
He knew it was hard for her to take up this responsibility, but she was their only hope. The Empress, his younger sister sacrificed so much to take her only child to me when Tang faced its fateful down fall. No matter how much he hated pushing her like this, he had to do it and keep it up.
“Princess Lilia, I have heard from trustworthy sources that Taira no Eriol’s wife is deeply ill and probably won’t be able to live long. This is your chance to sneak into the powerful Taira family as a maid and bewitch Lord Eriol and gain a higher status as his wife. Then you can use this status to visit China and carry out our plans from there.” Shang Guan Yun announced his plan, and Lilia knew she do nothing but accept it. However, Li Lilia never accept anything without a fight.
Biting her lower lip until she tasted blood, Lilia slammed her fist against the red-wood table and jumped off her seat. Her eyes were like blazing fire, and if glares could murder anyone, Shang Guan Yun would’ve been burned to ashes already.
And suddenly it hit her. I could use this chance and run away… I could fake a death of some sort when I get into the Taira house and I would be free from this entire load of crap. The thought trailed down her mind, and it undeniably brightened up her mood and made it turn an entire 180 degrees.
“Whatever, I’ll do it.” She sat back down, slumping into her seat with annoyance flashing in her eyes and smirked inwardly when she saw the satisfied look on Shang Guan Yun’s wrinkled face.
“The Taira family has been orderly dinner from our tavern almost everyday in the recent week, and the order will come again later on today… and you will be the one delivering it this time.” He clapped his hands together, and stared straight into Lilia’s eyes. “Failure is not an option, remember that Princess.”
Eriol meandered down the zigzagging stone-laiden path idly, breathing in (almost greedily) the soul-calming scent plum blossom that pervaded the lung-freezing wintry air. Halting into a stop, he titled his head slightly upward to watch the almost fragile branches of the plum blossoms sway back and forth.
Feeling a sudden invasion of vacuity in his heart, Eriol reminisced with a lingering look of nostalgia in his eyes. He promised Yuri that he would build her a garden full of plum blossoms and let it be their sanctuary – no one except them could set foot into such a heavenly place. And in that secret garden of theirs, he would propose to her and marry her.
He let out a bitter laugh, full of self-mockery. Life really had a twisted and nasty sense of humour. It enjoys prompting people into having unrealistic dreams, and just when their hope was at its highest peak, life crushes it and snickers as it watches one fall apart in despair.
He always thought Yuri was a part of him – someone he couldn’t live without. But he was wrong, time proved him wrong. Without her, he was still standing, making through the days. Life was like this, when you think you’ve bumped into a dead end, or your world just fell apart. In actuality, however, there was no dead end, and nor had your world fall apart.
Everything is just a state of mind, and nothing is ever absolute.
Like he had told himself so many times before, from now on, Yuri will be a memory that he would treasure in the deepest part of his heart – a dream from the distant past that he would never forget – and nothing more than that.
But he still unconsciously wandered to this place. Every now and then, he would come here — to the place where most of these memorized where buried under – where he would indulge himself and take off his masque, and let his true feelings show, even if it was only temporary.
Shaking his head slightly to drive away the trains of thoughts that were rushing into his mind, Eriol turned to gaze at the plum blossoms again. His eyes softened as he remembered the first time he showed her this place and how she danced through the falling petals in joy…
For a moment there, he almost thought he saw her again. Standing in the rain of plum blossom petals, elegantly poised as always, but she looked different somehow. She wasn’t the same Yuri from his most treasured memories.
Suddenly, his eyes widened with shock and disbelief. Could it be… could it be her?
Yuri brushed aside the stand of hair that fell into her eyes, and smiled, her eyes twinkling. “Lord Eriol. How have you been?”
Lilia had been holding a hamper with bentos (lunch boxes) sacked neatly together, meandering down a singularly dreary alley alone, and at length found herself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy yet sumptuous mansion of the eminent Taira family. But with the first glimpse of the luxurious building, full of pageantries, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded her spirit.
She inhaled deeply, and tilted her head to look upon the scene before her, with an utter depression of soul which she could compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon optium, like the bitter lapse into everyday life, like the hideous dropping off the veil.
There was an iciness, a sinking and a sickening of the heart — an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.
This was the Taira household, and her chance to remodel her life and her supposed destiny. Though she could not restrain herself from contemplation what unnerved her when she first set her eyes upon this building.
It was a mystery, so insoluble that she could not grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon her as she pondered, and she was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion that, while beyond doubt, there are combinations of unspeakable objects which have the power of affecting us. And incontestably, the analysis of such power lies among considerations beyond our depths.
Approaching the soldiers who were guarding the side entrance which serves the singular purpose of permitting the movements of servants entering and leaving the compound, without disturbing its proprietors. Lilia pulled out the previously prepared wooden identification card which conceded her the freedom to leave and enter the household with loosened security checks, whenever she was running errands for the masters of this mansion.
The soldier wearing the easily recognizable uniform, which identified him as a private soldier serving the Taira Clan, took a quick glance at Lilia’s identification card and sent her a small nod of approval, stating “You may enter.”
“Thank you, sir.” Lilia uttered her barely audible gratitude, and kept her head lowered the entire time, showing her obedience and humbleness. The soldier then ushered her into the presence of the interior of the household which resided the most powerful and Junoesque people in Heian-kyo.
What needs to be done, must be done. She imparted the words of wisdom to herself, as she felt the gates closing heavily behind her. With ruby-coloured eyes fixed on what was presented before her, on the whole mansion and domain, hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity — an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven.
The almost poisonous air, whispering the nameless fears and mysteries surrounding the mansion, was full of pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, and faintly discernible.
The wintry days within the household of the highly-respected and aristocratic Taira family were dull, dark and soundless. The clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, as if prognostic of the series of unfortunate events laying ahead in the mortals’ destinies. Wendy sat by the black oaken table, her eyes were hazy of cadaverousness.
The trellised panes of traditional Japanese paper sliding doors were slightly open, permitting the feeble gleams of obscure lights to make their way through the gap, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber.
It was then, the paper sliding door swung open, forcing Wendy to squint her eyes in order to adjust them to the pervasive white rays of lights that invaded her dark, sullen territories. There, Wendy saw the forever exuberant Rita standing before her, with a vivacious warm smile tugging on those bright pink lips.
“Miss Wendy, I’ve got the good luck charm you wanted from the Temple!” Rita exclaimed excitedly, and rushed to Wendy to show her most treasured possession, like a child eagerly presenting her treasure to the grown ups. Wendy smiled gently, before taking the good luck charm into her hands.
“I thought I had to wait for hours to get it, but once I told them I was from the Taira household, they immediately moved my placement up so I could see the priest as soon as possible.” Rita rattled on, unaware of the waning smile on Wendy’s now solemn countenance.
“Rita,” a soft yet stringent whisper escaped Wendy’s parted pallid lips, which grappled Rita’s undivided attention almost instantly. “Never speak of your status as the Taira household’s maid ever again. If it wasn’t for my Father’s wealth, the Taira family would never have consented for a girl with such interior birth as myself, to marry into the family. And let alone, become the wife of Taira no Eriol.”
Wendy paused for a brief moment, bitterness and an unspeakable resentment polled in her eyes, yet her voice remained soothing and soul-calming, as if the story she was narrating was extraneous to her. “My inferior foreordained me, a long life of a concubine of any man with power. Yet fate believed that I could become something much greater, and thus, it brought us here, to the Taira clan. Thus, we shall be unpretentious as always, and never take advantage of the Taira family’s viscounty ever again. Do you understand that, Rita?”
Rita nodded unobtrusively, while lowering her head like a child that just had done something wrong to displease her parents. “Yes, your ladyship.”
Wendy smiled and slowly got up; her graceful and elegant actions suggested the exalted position she held. “I’m going to visit Lord Eriol to deliver this good luck charm to him, for he is departing Heian-Kyo tomorrow morning with the troops, and as the dutiful wife of Taira No Eriol, I must bid him a formal goodbye and wish him the best of luck, and a safe return to home once the rebellion is resolved.”
Walking down the dreary, yet resplendent stone-laden trail in the Taira gardens, Lilia let out a sigh. She could not help but disrelish her lack of sense of direction, for she was absolutely lost again. Oppressing the urge of wanting to curse her self and the large compound, hitherto only reminded her of an antiquity full of mysteries rather than a residence for living.
To worsen her predicament, she could not as for directions, for the strict rules of the Taira house does not allow incompetent servants to serve the masters of this mansion. If anyone discovered that she skipped the first stages of servant training, she would be put to death immediately.
Thus, at this point, all she could do was to pretend she knew exactly where she was going, and hopefully during her trip to the middle of no where, she could find her destination.
Suddenly, her nose picked up a strong scent of plum blossom. It was her Mother’s favourite fragrance, or so Shang Guan Yun had claimed. Though she was deprived of the chance of meeting the women whose womb she came out of, she really wanted to know who she was, the kinds of things she liked and disliked.
Following the scent on adrift, Lilia hurried down the path which was leading her to the center of the plum blossom source. Eventually, the passage she followed conducted her to a fantasy world, with plum blossom petals drifting weightlessly through the air, like millions of butterflies flying over a field of dreams.
Enchanted by the picturesque scenery she had beheld, Lilia carefully entered the land of ecstasy and mystique, and her eyes widened as she saw two lovers holding each other, through the rain of blossom petals. No wonder this place had no guards nor servants, it was a secret rendezvous for cross-stared lovers.
Lilia fancied upon witnessing such scandalous yet forlorn love, however she could not help but let out the gasp that was forced to stay in her throat.
It was then, a small delicate hand, soft yet icily cold, covered her mouth. Terror flashed in Lilia’s widened eyes as she struggled in vain, but her pointless endeavours were quickly diminished as the gentle words of her captor were murmured into her ears. “Stay still if you want to live again.”
Meling gulped painfully, and did as she was told by staying still, while fighting off the fears arising in her which were disheartening her. She was able to tell that her captor is a young woman, perhaps even of her age, yet a part of her questioned the credibility of this observation, for a girl of her age could never have such an oppressive and imperatorial aura.
“Who are you?” Lilia whispered, after gathering up the remaining courage in her heart. If she were to die, at least she needed to know who it was that brought her such fate.
The young woman chuckled, letting out a light-hearted quiet laughter, as if she found a sense of hilariousness in the precipitous situation. “You’re a quite brave young one.” The young woman mused, and Lilia wasn’t certain if it was meant to be a compliment or satiric comment, mocking her miserable predicament.
Not giving Lilia a chance to reply, the young woman proceeded on “Most people in your predicament, would beg me to spare their lives, which I shall ignore and take their lives without giving my action a second thought. However, you’re different, and you’ve successfully captured my attention. My name is Nataly Dao, the wife of Taira no Eriol, your new patroness.” As soon as the words rolled off Wendy’s tongue, Lilia found herself dumbfounded and caught in a web created by bewilderment.
“I do not see the reason for you to decline this offer, unless, you prefer to die.” Lilia’s breathe hitched as her mind dwelled upon the word death. She knew succumbing to Lady Nataly’s ascendence would be dishonouring her royal blood as the last princess of the fallen Tang Dynasty, but would be the meaning of honour and pride, when one already lost the ability to live?
“Lilia at your service, my ladyship.” Lilia bit her lips and announced her decision. Either way, she just wanted to leave the Tavern and Shang Guan Yun’s control, and her supposed fate of reviving the Tang Dynasty. This was good enough for her. She tried to be hopeful.
Wendy didn’t seem to respond to her declaration of loyalism, but rather, directed the intense conversation to a whole different path. “You must be wondering who those people are.” She began, as if speaking to herself rather than speaking to Lilia. “That man is my husband, and the lady in his arms is my sister-in-law.”
The news struck Lilia like a thunderbolt, leaving her practically cataleptical. How could she watch her husband having an affair with another woman so calmly as this, especially when the woman involved is her sister in law?
“Well, I know what you’re thinking, but I have no plans of apprising you the reason of my nonchalant reaction. Now tell me Lilia, what is a servant girl like you doing in the well-known forbidden grounds of the Taira household? Correct me if I am wrong, for I’ve been horridly ill ever since I stepped foot into this house, that the servant girls all have been trained and well-informed of the rules of this family. So why are you not informed of this well-known unwritten rule?”
The sudden turn of the already intense conversation left Lilia holding onto her breath with trepidation, as if breathing any more of this poisonous air produced by this household would perish her soul entirely.