We’re almost nearing the end of volume 1 of Da Mo Yao, with the emotional intensity starting to burst at the seams for Yu Er. She’s such a passionate person, having all these feelings for Jiu Ye inside her that she plants vines for him and writes down her thoughts on cloth diaries to alleviate her pining. But while Yu Er talks about liking Jiu Ye a lot, I just don’t feel it on a visceral level. She thinks and plots on how to help him, but it’s not a gut-punch reaction of love that a truly passionate relationship ought to pull out of a character as wild and free as she was raised.
Whereas her everything interaction with Huo Qu Bing is uncertain and tentative, giving off the sensation that anything can happen between them. They can either get in a fight or end up passionately making out. That’s the kind of love story I’m just dying to see explode off the pages. For now, the political chess pieces are aligning in ways Yu Er no long has control over, and she’s determined to reach the end of her journey with Jiu Ye, whether it’s together or apart. She wants a final answer from him, and I say it’s about time the guy gave her one.
Chapter 15: A Date
Li Yan safely gives birth to a boy, which Emperor Wu of Han names Bo. He also greatly rewards Princess Pingyang, Li Yan Nian and Li Guang Li. At a time when the crown prince is not set, everyone in court is starting to speculate whether the eldest son birthed by Queen Wei Liu Ju can ascended to the Eastern Palace, or will it be the beloved Liu Bo.
Because the Wei family is so powerful, Liu Ju might have the advantage, but that may not be the case. The Wei family rose to prominence because of the Emperor’s love for Queen Wei, but the same thing can happen to the Li family. Plus Liu Ju’s personality is vastly different than his father, who might one day disfavor him.
While the court is abuzz, the Wei family remains calm. General Wei Qing even enters the Palace to personally congratulate Li Yan on the birth of Liu Bo. When Liu Bo is one month old, the Emperor suddenly summons all and announces that Liu Ju will be the Crown Prince. It’s sudden but not a surprise, since the battle rages with the Xiong Nu and he needs the support from the Great General Wei, General Gong Xun He, and Huo Qu Bing. If Liu Ju wasn’t the Crown Prince, there would be no reason for these great warriors to fight for the Emperor.
During this time, Li Yan suddenly falls ill and is in a coma for three days and three nights, only saved by the attention of the royal physicians. Liu Che was so nervous and worried he did everything he could, including summoning me to the Palace to whisper in Li Yan’s ear to see if she can stir. I whisper her name, and when we are alone, I tell her “Li Yan, how can you abandon your new born baby. You still have a chance, why are you giving up?”
When Li Yan softly stirs, Liu Che is ecstatic and shows his genuine affection for her. I think to myself, this man who rules the world loves this woman and is genuinely afraid of losing her. When she wakes up and sees him, she whispers “I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to see you again.” and then she kisses him on the palm of his hand. I walk outside thinking to myself “Li Yan, did you really get sick. Or did you make yourself sick?”
When I return to Luo Yu House, I’m exhausted but find Li Gan waiting for me. He looks devastated and I tell him not to worry, Li Yan is awake and with some rest for a few months should recover. His worry eases, but I can see what ails him, having to wait here for news when she’s fighting for her life, unable to help her.
The sun sets and the room turns dark. He remains sitting and not moving, so I try to keep myself awake. After a long time, he speaks “If this is her wish, then I will do everything in my power to make it come true for her. As long as she doesn’t get sick again.”
I lean back and sigh. Li Yan, if this illness was a coincidence, then the Gods are looking out for you. This illness caused a steely man to feel apologetic, and another to vow fealty to you and help you seek the throne for your son. Li Gan is the Li family’s only heir, and his decision will surely determine the direction the family throws its support behind. If this was no coincidence, then your methods make my heart shudder. You just became a mother, and yet you can gamble with your life. A person who is so ruthless towards herself? My heart starts to feel afraid.
Li Gan and I are both deep in our own thoughts when the door suddenly opens and we both stand up in a hurry. Huo Qu Bing stares at us with a solemn expression. Li Gan and I, a man and a woman, alone in one room, that’s bad enough already, but we didn’t even light a lamp and appeared to be staring at each other in the darkness. This indeed looks very odd and hard to explain.
Li Gan sees Huo Qu Bing’s expression and smiles a bit. He shakes his head at me, bows to Huo Qu Bing, and then walks out without saying a word. Huo Qu Bing tries to control his temper and asks “When did you two become so close? You’ve been in the Palace for so long, and yet you didn’t even rest.”
I haven’t slept in two days and two nights and I’m exhausted right now. I tried to stay awake because of Li Gan, but now I don’t care anymore. I flopped back on the pallet and pulled the blanket over myself “I’m so tired. Let me sleep first and then you can punish me later if you want.”
Huo Qu Bing hesitated and then smiled. He walked over to the pallet and sat down. In my drowsy state, I head him whispering in my ear “You are that comfortable around me? But I don’t quite trust myself. What if I can’t control myself, maybe…..maybe I will……take you…..” His breath glances over my cheek and his lips are barely brushing my skin. I’m so sleepy that I’ve fallen into the sweet abyss of slumber, not thinking anymore.
When I wake up, it’s past noon. I look around and suddenly remember the low voice whispering in my ear. I am stunned and immediately sit up. I look down and my clothes are intact, only my shoes have been removed and placed on the floor.
I sit there in silence, there is no one next to me. Was that a dream?
The Lover’s Vines don’t disappoint me, a vast growth of silver and gold flowers that leave even the gardener in awe, not sure how I managed to grow it. It was easy really, I just talked to it every day, begging it to grow. Perhaps flowers can understand human emotions, knowing how much I’m longing for that man’s arrival, so it grants my wish.
Jiu Ye is in his wheelchair while I am behind him. We are strolling but my heart feels like bursting. I don’t hear Jiu Ye’s question and need to be reminded by Xiao Feng that he’s talking to me. I chat with him and we arrive at my courtyard. I make a face at Xiao Feng, who announces he’s off to explore the rest of Luo Yu House now. Jiu Ye lets him go, and Xiao Feng makes a money sign towards me first before running off.
The fragrance of the flowers hit us the moment I open the door. He asks if I’ve planted Gold Silver Flowers but I’m too nervous to answer. An entire garden of Lover’s Vines in the sun glistening with gold, silver, and green, captivating and enchanting. He admires them and commends me on doing such a superb job of growing them.
I stare at the flowers before calming myself down “Do you know this flower has another name?” He was silent for a long time “In the Winter the leaves remain green, so it’s also called “Enduring Winter”.”
I smile sadly “Why are you avoiding the other name? Because the twisting flowers look like lovers dancing, so people also call them Lover’s Vines.”
He laughed “I momentarily forgot and just remember their medicinal name. You didn’t ask me here today just to look at flowers. Lets go see the willows growing by the lake. Let’s go walk by the lake.”
I grab his hand, which is about to wheel away “I really just invited you here to view the flowers. I don’t care if you think I am being bold and shameless. I need to tell you how I feel. I planted these Lover’s Vines for you two Falls ago. It’s almost two years now, Jiu Ye. I…..I like you. I want to marry you. I want to always be able to view these flowers with you. And not just me all alone watching these lovers dancing on the vines.”
His hand shakes, cold as ice, and he stares into my eyes. I see the pain and the fear, all the complicated emotions tied together. I don’t understand. My hand holding his is starting to get cold. I plead with him silently: I have given my heart to you. Please treasure it. Please. Treasure. It.
Jiu Ye suddenly jerks his hand out of mine and avoids my eyes. He starsd ahead at the Lover’s Vines and spoke clearly, like every word needs all his strength to get out “I am not used to viewing flowers with anybody. I’m sure you’ll find someone to view flowers with you.”
My heart crashed on the ground, the second it hit shattering into pieces. My hand is still outstretched and suspended in the air. It’s like I want to grab onto something, but my hand touches nothing, placed in an odd position.
He tried to wheel himself away but it’s like his arms have no strength so he doesn’t move. I grabbed his sleeve “Why? Has it been just me all this time? You have no feelings for me? What are you afraid of? Your leg? I don’t care about these things, Jiu Ye. How far a person walks in their lifetime is not determined by their legs, but by their heart.”
He turned his head and refused to look at me. He pulled his sleeve out of my hand and kept repeating over and over “Yu Er, you are so wonderful. There is bound to be someone who is willing to view the flowers with you.”
I watched as his sleeve disappeared from my hand little by little, and I cannot stop it. So there is something in this world harder to capture than a passing cloud.
An icy cold voice rings from behind us “There is indeed someone who is willing to view flowers with her.”
I remain frozen on the spot and continue staring at my hand. How can he be so cruel as to push it away? Time and time again. So the biggest sadness isn’t heartbreak, it’s unending despair.
Huo Qu Bing walks up to Jiu Ye “Meng Jiu of Shi Enterprises?” His face is ashen but his stance proud and arrogant.
Jiu Ye acknowledges him with a very conflicted expression, his face turning whiter “Yu Er, your friend is here, so I’ll be going now” and wheeled himself away.
Huo Qu Bing spoke up “My name is Huo Qu Bing” and Jiu Ye stopped for a moment, before continuing on his way. He murmured “I’ve long heard of your reputation, what a pleasure it is to meet you today” without turning back.
“He’s gone already” Huo Qu Bing lightly told me. I still don’t move, so he grabs me. I jerk my hand out of his and roars at him “I don’t need you to concern yourself with my business. Who told you to enter my house? Get out!”
His hands suddenly fisted and he punched the vines “Don’t forget you asked me to come view the flowers. Lover’s Vines? You only told me it was called Gold Silver Flowers.”
A few of the bamboo sticks snap, and the Lover’s Vines in front of me shudder and then collapse. A sudden loud roar later, the entire vine patch has fallen in a flurry of gold and silver.
I stand there staring disbelieving. How could it collapse? Two years I’ve carefully tended to it. How did it fall so easily? Did the dream just evaporate?
I glared at Huo Qu Bing, who also looked stunned. He was staring at the vines with confusion in his eyes “Yu Er, look at these complicated intertwining vines? Don’t you think it’s just like life.”
I asked the gardener to try and save the Gold Silver Flowers, but the main vine has been damaged and the flowers continue to wilt one after another, with the leaves turning yellow. I watched them slowly die before me. The things I believed in my heart was also slowly dying.
Hong Gu tries to convince me to see the Shi family members, and even the ill Wu Ye tries to meet with me, but I refuse to see anyone. I took a bucket of water and splashed on the vines, apologizing for them suffering because of our complicated lives. Hong Gu says Shi Enterprises is her master and boss, and right those three heads are outside waiting for me for an entire day already, which is unheard of.
I finally allow them inside. I bow to Tian Cao, Sheng Xing, and Jing Yen, and they ask if I’m drawing a clear boundary with them now. I take a deep breath, my throat hoarse “Jiu Ye would rather lose money on his businesses but he insists on repaying my money right now. It appears that the Shi Enterprises is the one who wants to make a clear boundary with me.”
They have nothing to say to that, but Jing Yen pipes up “Xiao Yu, what happened between you and Jiu Ye? He was fine coming here, but when he got home his face was ashen like he got sick. He’s locked himself in his study for days now, only telling us to repay your loan immediately.”
My hand clenches and my nail digs into my palm. They look at each other and tell me they understand how hard it is for me. The normally taciturn Sheng Xing suddenly speaks up “Xiao Yu, give Jiu Ye more time. A lot of emotional knots can’t get untangled in a day or two.”
I shake my head “I tried to hint at him but he keeps evading me. I try to get close but he keeps letting me get close before violently pushing me away. I ask myself why, but I can never read his expression. It’s not so simple. If it wasn’t for his legs, I would have told him long ago how I feel. But he still keeps pushing me away. I’m just a girl, and I’m telling you all this today. You grew up with him, do you know why?”
They look solemn and finally Sheng Xing answers “We cannot tell you why…..perhaps…. We know Jiu Ye treats you differently. We grew up with him, these things we can tell at least. He really treats you differently. Can you please give him more time, please give him another chance?”
I laughed and laughed. When a person hurts so much they can’t cry, they just laugh. But it’s a laugh that sounds worse than crying ” Please leave now, I’m tired and need to rest.”
Last Fall I collected a lot of Gold Silver Flower seeds, but this Fall all I have is a dead vine. Huo Qu Bing watches as I take an ax to the patch, slowly hacking away at the dead vines. “It’s all wilted, why are you even doing this?”
I answer “The gardener says that if I protect the stem, it might grow again next Spring.”
“I shouldn’t have taken out my temper on them the other day.”
I give him an odd look, with a biting sarcasm I ask “Are you apologizing to them now? The all-powerful young master Huo actually admitting he did something wrong? If news of this got out, it would shock the entire Chang An city to death.”
He looked angry “You walk around all day with a pissed off face, clearly you think I did something wrong.”
I lower my head and keep hacking at the dead vines “It’s like the Sun is rising from the West, I don’t know how to react.”
“Yu Er!” Huo Qu Bing suddenly shouted “I’m going to Xi Yu next year. If you’re not happy in Chang An, come with me for a visit to Xi Yu.”
His eyes are deep dark pools, hiding so much inner thoughts like the pitch black night. I feel it pressing down on my heart and making it hurt a little, not sure if it’s for him or for me. It’s almost three years since I last saw Brother Wolf. Is he doing well? Visiting Brother Wolf is a good idea, and it is time that I think about where I’m headed in the future. My sorrow may have no end, but life continues to go on.
“I can’t promise you now, I still have some things to handle here. If everything is taken care of, I might go back to Xi Yu.”
He smiled and nodded his head “At least it’s better than your outright rejection last year.”
The Teacher inside is discussing General Bai Qi of the Qin dynasty and his decision over one hundred years ago during a battle to offer surrender to the soldiers of the Zhao Kingdom, only to renege after they had surrendered, burying 40,000 soldiers alive. This ended up costing the Qin Empire even more pain because no one would surrender after wars, so every battle dragged on. One student disagrees. If General Bai had not killed those able bodied men, causing the entire Zhao Kingdom to surrender, the battle would have waged on and more people would have suffered. In the long run, he likely saved more lives of the Qin people.
The discussion goes on as students take both sides of the argument, while Li Guang Li naps off to the side. The Teacher has long given up on him, but the students I selected to study with him are doing marvelously. The extraordinary rise of the Great General Wei has students these days dreaming of their own successes based on talent and merit. I may have planned these chess pieces, but will I end up using it?
Fang Ru comes with snacks and we go inside, everyone happy to see us. The student all crowd me, thrilled to see me, asking how I’m doing and why I haven’t come by in a long time. Li Guang Li gets up and stretches, offering to take everyone out to Yi Ping Ju to eat later, and they all thank him. I can see that he’s rather clueless, but loves to mess around and desire wealth, but he doesn’t look down on the poor. If he didn’t have Li Yan for a sister, he might be living a carefree life.
I walk with Fang Ru and discuss how fast time flies, we’ve known each other for three years now. She commends me on transforming myself into a mover and shaker in Chang An. I laugh, saying that I am really lazy and will only do things if it benefits me. I tell her that she is my first friend in Chang An, and today I want to discuss whether she wants to marry Li Yan Nian. She blushes but doesn’t say anything.
I tell her that marrying him, she will be tied to the rise and fall of the Li family from now one. She assures me Li Yan Nian isn’t interest in the pursuit of power, but I tell her that it doesn’t matter what he wants, it’s what others might do to him. She stops and thanks me for thinking about her. But she wants to marry him, this is her life and she wants to spend it beside him.
I laugh, knowing this would be her answer. I’ve done what I needed to do as her friend, and she thanks me for everything I’ve done for her. She will treasure what she has with Li Yan Nian. I will tell Li Yan Nian to come propose then, but he needs to prepare quite a wedding red envelope for me. She blushes and thanks me.
“What did you say?” My heart jerked in pain so I asked again.
Xiao Feng hollered “I said Jiu Ye is sick, he’s sick. How many times must I say it?”
I ask why he hasn’t gotten a doctor for him, and why he’s telling me this. He rolled his eyes at me, asking if I’m acting stupid on purpose. He’s passed word to me, that’s all he came to do. He runs off.
I sit and think for awhile before going to visit him. Tian Cao opens the door for me, and I ask if Jiu Ye is willing to see me. Tian Cao says of course he will, I haven’t been by in months and the Bamboo Residence is so lonely. He tells me Jiu Ye caught a cold, though the doctor thinks Jiu Ye has more than that, he’s got emotional worries that is making him sick.
I silently walk to the Bamboo Residence and Tian Cao lets me enter alone. I hesitate before telling myself to go in, it can’t be worse than now. I walk in and the window is open with a breeze lightly blowing throw. He lays on the pallet completely still, like he is asleep. I sneak in quietly, so he shouldn’t have heard me, but he calls out “Yu Er?” in a very exhausted voice.
Inside the frigid room, I walk to the pallet and put my hands on the blanket, glad it is warm inside. He pushed a warm silver ball out to me and I tell him I’m not cold, but he insists so I take it and place in on my legs, warming me up.
In the dark, we sit in silence for a long time. If we could be like this until the end of time, I wouldn’t mind.
“Jiu Ye, I have something to tell you. Please don’t cut me off, or else I won’t have the courage to finish. Whether you want to or not, please let me speak and then I will leave.”
He was silent and I knew he wasn’t stopping me. “I don’t know when I started liking you, perhaps it was your warm presence under the lamplight, or when you tended to my ears. Maybe when you laughed ever so lightly. All I know is that I want to be with you. I tried to test to see if you liked me. Jiu Ye, I always told you I was sick here and there, but those were all lies. I’ve never gotten sick, and I’m as hale as a horse. I just wanted you to think of me every day a little, wondering what medicine to recommend for me. I’m not afraid of bitter things either, but I wanted you to worry that I wouldn’t drink it. I wanted to place myself in your heart.”
I smiled “Am I really sneaky? Jiu Ye, in your study that day, I know you like Zhuang Zi and Mo Zi, because they discussed weapon making and is very useful, and how small kingdoms can protect itself against the hegemons. I know you raised a lot of carrier pigeons. And last year Xi Yu needed financial assistance because of the war and the cold spell. You know a lot of Xi Yu languages, so I long suspected you were a Xi Yu person, and everything you do is to help your people.”
I sneaked a peek at him and he was staring wide eyed at the ceiling, his face as still as the water. “I don’t care if you are a Han or a Xi Yu person. You are you. If you want freedom, I am willing to leave Chang An with you. The desert will be our playground. If you want…..to stop the Han expansion, I can’t help you win the battle, but I can help you disrupt the Han court from within, so that during your lifetime they cannot expand westward.”
He turned to look at me, with shock and warmth, but I still didn’t know what he was thinking.
He asked “Yu Er, did you do something secretly? Are those new businesses you opened to collect information about the secrets and weaknesses of the Han court officials?”
I bit my lips and nodded my head. He looked torn “Silly girl, close them all down now. Shi Enterprises has been here for over a hundred years, I can gather that information easily without your help.” Suddenly he looked alarmed “Did you promise Consort Li anything?” I think about my deadly oath, but that doesn’t count, so I shake my head. He looks relieved “That’s good. Please don’t get involved in the battle for the throne.”
Jiu Y sees me fiddling with my skirt and appears to want to reach over but stops his hand. He smiles and explains that he is indeed a Xi Yu person. His grandfather was a prince from the Yi Nye kingdom who suffered a political upheaval and was spirited out of the palace. His servant captured a female wolf and used her milk to feed his grandfather. After he grew up, he never used the royal seal to find those loyal to him, and instead used his handsome looks to roam the Xi Yu lands and romancing all the princesses. One day he returned to the Yi Nye palace and woke up his uncle, who stole the throne. He shaved the king’s head and asked for a big feast. After he was done eating, he told his uncle that he was a better king than his father, and then tossed the royal seal at him and left. He then decided to become a desert thief.
He was a spectacular thief, and his logo was the sign of the wolf since he was saved by drinking the milk of a female wolf. Turned out he was a skilled businessman, and over time he became the largest stone and precious rock merchant in all of Xi Yu, in addition to being a successful desert thief. Perhaps the Gods envied his good luck, because one day he tried to rob a Han convoy and met Jiu Ye’s grandmother. He fell in love with her, but she was already a concubine to another merchant.
He followed her back to Chang An and managed to abduct her, and decided Chang An was a lot of fun so stayed here and became a merchant. I was in awe of this colorful life led by Jiu Ye’s grandfather. Over the years, his grandfather would help the Xi Yu nations oppose the Xiong Nu when the Xiong Nu was powerful. Now that the Han dynasty is more powerful, Jiu Ye continues the family way of helping, but he must do it in secret because his grandmother was a Han person and he doesn’t want to endanger the lives of the Shi family.
I think to myself that this is much more difficult and complicated than I even imagined. Jiu Ye needs to oppose Liu Che on one hand, but protect the lives of everyone in the Shi Enterprises. He helps the Xi Yu nations so they don’t suffer in the war, taking into account the power of the Xiong Nu. Everyone is watching how the Shi Enterprises is doing, and one mistake everything gets thrown into disarray. He’s been handling all of this since a young age, how difficult must his journey have been. Yet now he just glances over it all with a smile.
My heart leaps knowing he is confiding in me, does that mean he trusts me, and is willing to accept me? He looked at me and his eyes grew dark, and then he turned away. In the silence I speak “I know how you feel, so I’ll tell you one more time. I don’t need your answer now, because I won’t be able to endure it. In a few days it will be New Year, and you once said that was a good day, and my birthday. I will be waiting for you in my courtyard. If you don’t come, then I will know your answer. But…..” I looked at him directly “I hope you will come.”
I get up to leave, reminding him to close the windows. As I reach the door, he speaks “Don’t turn around, just answer this question. Yu Er, do you want a family?”
I hold the door “Yes, I want a family. I want a loud boisterous family. When I’m on the street, I envy the couples carrying a child and bickering. When I heard your past I was envious, to have a grandfather, parents, and siblings. A big family is happiness! What about you?” There is only silence behind me, so I turn back around. In the dark he answers “Me, too.”
That was the best thing I heard all night and I smile. He suddenly asked “Yu Er, Huo…..Huo Qu Bing, is he good to you?” I was silent and didn’t want to acknowledge this right now, but I can’t dismiss it. I lightly nod my head. After awhile, he says “You can leave now. Be careful on the road.”
I hesitated for a moment before stepping outside. When I turned I saw his dark shining eyes, filled with longing and pain all mixed together. My heart lurched and he didn’t avoid my gaze. Our eyes met and it was like a tempest. I closed the door and my arm hangs limply to the side afterwards. The door slowly closes and his face disappears from my view. This was the first time he does not avoid my gaze.
In that brief moment, all my strength feels like it’s been eaten up and I weakly lean on the wall. It was much later that I had the strength to walk away.