CHAPTER 16 - DREAMS AND REMINISCENCE
Characters appearing in this chapter:
Annie Man Chung Han---So Sui Han a.k.a. Ching Ching
Gilbert Lam Wai Sun---Lam Yik Lun a.k.a. Big Brother
Adam Cheng Siu Chow---Emperor
Angie Cheung Wai Yee---Cheung Yim Na a.k.a. Concubine Cheung
Louis Koo Tin Lok---Koo Yat Fei
Blissfully unaware of Lun's discomfort, Sui Han, being an "active sleeper," wiggles ever so slightly on top of her human pillow every few minutes, unknowingly keeping Lun in a constant state of arousal. Finally, unable to take this torment any longer, he wraps his arms snugly around her to prevent further sinuous movements. Gradually, as fatigue overcomes him, he drifts off and silence fills the room, save for quiet breathing. As Lun sleeps with Sui Han's heart beating close to his, he drifts off to a time long ago, when two other individuals' hearts also beat as one…
FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO
IN A FOREST IN ANCIENT CHINA
Elms, maples, and firs stand tall and proud, their green leaves and needles glistening with morning dew, their roots thirstily drinking drops of excess moisture that drip onto the forest ground. Weak sunrays penetrate through the spaces between the blanket of leaves covering the forest ceiling, struggling to illuminate the forest at the hour of dawn. Every so often, a gust of wind would send the leaves waving, shaking pollen off the treetops and sprinkling them over the forest ground. Squirrels scurry about the ground, their furry tails thrust high up in the air as they scrounge the area for newly fallen acorns.
In the middle of nature's setting stands a small straw hut. Each morning its makeshift straw door would cautiously swing open and a petite young woman would peek out to check for dangerous wild animals before venturing outside. Delicate and gentle in nature, she has lived alone in the woods for as long as she can remember, with only the plants and the small animals for friends. She loves butterflies. Every morning, right at the touch of dawn, she would spend hours watching the fragile creatures dance about in the air, their bright-hued wings fluttering delicately as they hover around the soft petals of wild flowers. Each time, this young woman would attempt to touch those dainty wings, yearning for even the slightest physical contact with another living thing.
And every night, she would hide in her hut, quivering with fear as she curls tightly under her blankets, listening to the howls of wolves echoing through the forest, like the cries of the dying that she has heard so many times in her dreams. Day after day, night after night, she lives in isolation, for she is shunned by the human world because she possesses the gift - or curse - to see events that are yet to come. While content with her peaceful life in woods, she is never truly happy, for she longs to love and be loved by another human.
One day, overcome by loneliness, she decides to venture into the marketplace, just for a little peek of the humanity she yearns for. Full of excitement and fear, she sets off at the crack of dawn, her heart pounding wildly with anticipation as she half-skips and half-runs her way to town.
Upon arrival, she hides in a dark, obscure alley, peeking out at the busy street, peering curiously at the vendors calling out to the passersby to come examine their wares. Oh, how she longs to walk out and inspect each and every piece of merchandise and to taste the hot, steamy noodles being devoured by the fat man seated at a nearby food vendor stand. She stares at a little child who toddles by, fascinated by her drooling, toothless grin as she munches on a piece of soft rice cake. She sighs wistfully as a couple strolls by, the man placing his arm protectively around his pregnant wife's shoulders as she waddles awkwardly toward a vendor stand selling bolts of colorful fabric. She winces as a delusional elderly beggar crouches at a corner and croaks out a song about old loves and new flames. As this beggar finishes her song on a high, ear-piercing note, the young woman hiding in the alley giggles, her laughter so light and airy that it attracts to the attention of several townspeople nearby.
One townsperson initially smiles at the tinkling sound of laughter but then shouts in horror as he recognizes the young woman and points accusingly at her. "It's that witch girl with the evil eyes!"
Quickly, another townsperson grabs a long stick lying on the ground. "Get away from us, you evil creature!" He takes several swipes at the young woman, who dodges, her eyes filled with fear.
He and two more men chase after her, armed with large wooden sticks. As the terrified woman runs by the townspeople, several of the village women fling rotten vegetables at her, screaming obscenities.
Village women run up to the young woman, beating on her arms as she tries to dash by. "Witch! Witch! Witch!"
Frightened and confused, young woman tears away from the horde as quickly as possible. She trips in her haste, but ignores the sting from her scrapped knees and immediately picks herself up as she vanishes around the curb, running back to the safety of her hut in the forest.
Once she reaches the sanctuary of the woods, she slows her pace, breathing heavily as she glances longingly back toward the direction of town. Heart heavy with sorrow, she heads back to her hut. Suddenly, she lets out a surprised squeak as she notices a trail of blood leading from the door of her straw shack. Heart pounding with part fear and part curiosity, she approaches and cautiously swings open the door with one hand. From behind the door, an unconscious man, his long white gown saturated with bloodstains, falls over the threshold.
The young woman leaps back with fear and gasps. "Ahhh!"
Slowly, she advances toward him and lightly pokes him in the shoulder with a finger. When he makes no sign of movement, she breathes out a sigh of relief and ventures closer to inspect this strange being. Looking at his face, she could tell that he is a human, just like her.
Quickly, she drags his unconscious body into her hut and onto her bed. Using a damp rag, she cleans away the grime from his face. Curious, she glances at the twin swords strapped to his back, one with a gold tint and the other with a blue tint. After a few minutes, she loses interest in the two pieces of metal and returns her attention to the human in front of her. Having never seen another human this close up before, she sits by the bedside and simply stares at him, mesmerized. Fascinated, she hesitantly reaches out and touches his face with her fingertips, tracing the eyebrows, the cheekbones, the nose, the lips. Her eyes stray to his chest, and she frowns in confusion, wondering why his appears so flat compared to hers. She pokes at her own chest, feeling the soft round breasts. Then she pokes at his chest, her brows furrowed in surprise when she encounters hard muscle. Perplexed, she pokes at his chest with more force, worried as to why she is different from this other person. Awakened by her jabs, the man moans from the pain from his injuries and slowly opens his eyes to stare at her.
Startled, the young woman leaps back. "Ahhh!" She looks at the stranger with big, round eyes, ready to run if he bites her.
The young man stares up at his rescuer's face, his pain making his vision hazy. Blinking several times, he finally focuses in on the most angelic face he has ever seen. For a minute, he thought he has gone to heaven upon seeing this vision with snowy white skin, large innocent eyes, a perky upturned nose, and ruby red lips slightly parted into an "O," as she stares at him in shock.
The young man struggles to sit up and leans against the bedpost. "Miss, did you save me?"
The young woman examines him cautiously for a few minutes before deciding that he is harmless. "Yes! Yes!" She nods excitedly and runs back over to his bedside. Then, as if a new thought occurs to her, she suddenly frowns. "What is Miss?"
The young man smiles kindly. "It's a polite way of referring to someone like you."
The young woman claps her hands excitedly. "Miss! Miss!"
She dashes over to the table to choose an apple for him and shyly presents him with the fruit. She pushes the apple in his hands toward his mouth, smiling at him expectantly, as if waiting for him to take a bite and compliment her on the delicious taste.
The young man stares at his pretty rescuer, who has the face of an angel and is dressed in clean rags. "Miss, do you live here alone?"
The young woman nods her head happily. "Yes! Yes!"
He smiles at her childish enthusiasm. "What is your name?"
The young woman suddenly saddens. "Name? I don't have a name."
Upon hearing this, the young man frowns, sad that such a lovely young lady is living in the woods like an animal. "Well, I can't keep calling you Miss. You are so beautiful and pure. Do mind if I call you Ching Ching?"
The young woman claps her hands joyfully, thrilled to finally have a name. "Ching Ching! Ching Ching!" She nods her head enthusiastically, indicating her assent.
The young man grins at her innocent joy. "You may call me Big Brother." He reaches toward her and gently strokes her soft cheek.
Ching Ching regards her new friend with awe, breathing the words softly. "Big Brother." She stares at him solemnly for a while and then suddenly leans in and hugs him, thrilled to finally have found a human friend. She happily chants his name repeatedly. "Big Brother! Big Brother!"
He wraps his arms around her and turns his head to look at her. At the same time, she turns her head to look at him. Both of their lips accidentally brush against each other. He draws his head back slightly, his heart pounding against his rib cage for some odd reason. He has never experienced love at first sight, but he is positive that this is what he is feeling right now. On the other hand, she simply stares at him curiously, innocent of the ways between men and women. Drowning in the deep, swirling pools of her eyes, he slowly leans forward and softly touches his lips against her eyelids…
BACK TO THE PRESENT…
BACK AT THE GOLDEN PHOENIX INN
IN SUI HAN AND YIK LUN'S INN ROOM
A strong gust of wind hammers at the inn room's window, causing the window shutter to bang loudly against the wall, waking the room's occupants up from their sleep. Sui Han jerks awake, looking at her surroundings with a disoriented expression on her face. Suddenly realizing that she is on top of some man, she shrieks and quickly scrambles off him. Without waiting to determine the identity of the man, she slaps him on the cheek before her blurry vision clears and she is able to focus in on his face.
Sui Han gasps as she realizes that she has just slapped her young master. “First Young Master! I am so sorry!"
Lun rubs at his stinging cheek, unsure of what just happened. "Sui Han, why did you slap me?"
Sui Han looks at him with wide, remorseful eyes. "I am sorry. I woke up and found someone with his arms around me and acted on reflex." She trails off, blushing intensely. "I am an active sleeper and tend to roll around when I sleep. That is why no one in the servants' quarters wants to share a bed with me." Sui Han ends her last word with a whisper, her eyes downcast, ashamed of her conduct in bed.
Lun chimes in helpfully, trying to cheer her up. "I'll sleep with you anytime!"
His cheerful smile freezes on his face as he realizes what he has just blurted out. Silence descends on the room, as Sui Han looks at Lun strangely while he flushes.
Lun clears his throat nervously. "Ummm… Ummm… What I mean is… Ummm…" He gestures with his hands helplessly, wishing he could just dig a hole and hide in it.
Sui Han finally giggles as she notices his adorable discomfort. "That is all right, First Young Master. I understand what you mean." Suddenly, she becomes somber as she remembers slapping him and looks at him remorsefully. "I am sorry for slapping you."
Lun grins forgivingly, trying to ease her discomfort. "Don't worry! I am a heavy sleeper. My brother and sisters always slap me in the mornings to wake me up."
Sui Han giggles at his lame excuse to ease her discomfort. "But it's not morning, yet."
Lun gives an exaggerated frown. "Oh. Well, will you do me a favor and slap me again in a few hours?"
Sui Han laughs at his silliness. "Okay."
Lun retrieves the dislodged pillow at the foot of the bed and places it longitudinally at the center of the bed. He urges Sui Han to lie back down and then takes the dislodged blanket and covers her with it.
Sui Han smiles sweetly at him as she closes her eyes. She immediately drifts off to sleep again, all the while thinking that he is such a dear man and wishing that he were her brother.
Meanwhile, Lun lies on his side of the bed with his eyes closed, hoping to recapture his dream in which he is kissing a young woman with Sui Han's face…
THAT SAME NIGHT
IN THE GARDENS OF THE ROYAL PALACE
An elaborately carved marble statue of a dragon sits majestically at the middle of large circular fountain dominating the center of royal gardens, its mouth spewing a continuous stream of water that splashes gently into the pool, creating concentric ripples. The cherry blossom petals floating on the surface of the water shift around the pool, riding on the rippling waves.
Surrounding the fountain, millions of flowers sway gently in the breeze, splashing the landscape with an array of colors and sprinkling the night air with a sweet floral fragrance. The moon stretches its long, luminescent rays into the garden, transforming the blooms into heavenly creations of velvety, silver petals.
A tall, distinguished man in his late forties, garbed in a long yellow gown fashioned from the finest silk, stands in the royal gardens, gazing at the full moon with sad eyes, as he remembers his most favored concubine, Sui Yuk. Even after twenty-five years, he recalls clearly every detail of her perfect features, her sweet musical voice, and her gentle nature. He walks over to a violet and lightly touches its petals, recalling the first time Sui Yuk saw the royal gardens. Oh, how her eyes glowed with awe. Then she turned and looked at him with a beautiful smile gracing her lips, and he felt like the most fortunate person on the earth.
The Emperor sighs forlornly. "Sui Yuk, are you happy right now?" He looks up at the clear night sky, as if the heavens hold the answers to his questions. "Do you still think of me as I think of you?"
The last twenty-five years have been sad and lonely for the Emperor. Although surrounded by beautiful court ladies eager to please his every desire, his heart continues to long for the love of the one woman who does not return his feelings. Out of stubbornness and pride, he has deliberately refused to keep track of her whereabouts all these years.
In addition, as if the fates enjoy toying with him, he has been blessed with many daughters but has unfortunately been without an heir for the throne these past twenty-five years.
The sound of soft footsteps interrupts his reverie. He looks over to the east gardens and sees Concubine Cheung, one of the concubines whom his is quite fond of. She walks over to him with a trace of smile on her ruby-painted lips, the train of her extravagant light-purple gown trailing behind her soundlessly.
Concubine Cheung curtsies to her royal husband. "Long live Your Majesty." She speaks in a husky voice as she places her hands on the Emperor's arm seductively. "Your Majesty, why are you standing out here alone in the middle of the night?"
He sighs as he pats her hand. "Today is Sui Yuk's birthday. I wonder what she is doing right now…" He stares off into space, buried in memories of the past. Then he laughs to himself, the sound hollow and sad. "She is probably sound asleep and certainly not thinking of me."
Concubine Cheung's facial muscles tighten ever so slightly, the only outward sign of her anger and jealousy toward Chan Yin Yuk. Immediately, she relaxes and puts on a serene and understanding look, smiling winningly at the Emperor. "Your Majesty, if you miss Sister Yin Yuk so much, why don't you go find her and persuade her to come back with you? I am sure your true love for her will win her heart."
The Emperor shakes his head with discouragement. "She does not love me. No matter how much I beg, I know she will prefer to stay with him." He longingly touches the fragile petals of a lily. "Twenty-five years ago, I had these lilies planted in honor of her beauty. At that time, it never occurred to me that she would no longer be here with me at the palace to enjoy their beauty twenty-five years later." He asks a rhetorical question. "Isn't it funny that the lilies continue to bloom year after year, even though their namesake has long since left the area?"
Concubine Cheung smiles charmingly, although she longs to scratch the absent Yin Yuk's eyes out. "Your Majesty, it is late and chilly out here. Why don't you let me take care of you tonight?" She wraps her arms around his waist seductively and looks up at him with hooded eyes.
The Emperor sighs and gently sets her away from him. "I am not tired. I would like to be alone for a while longer. Concubine Cheung, why don't you get some rest?" He walks up to a sprig of lilies peeking up from the moist earth. He stares at the blooms, lost in thought, already dismissing Concubine Cheung from his mind.
Concubine Cheung smiles and curtsies prettily to her husband. "All right, Your Highness. I will see you in the morning." Once her back is turned, a stony expression immediately replaces her smile, her eyes alight with fury.
THE FOLLOWING MORNING
IN CONCUBINE CHEUNG'S ROYAL CHAMBERS
Concubine Cheung paces her room, casting her eyes over to the door every so often. Suddenly, a person dressed in black somersaults through the window and lands in front of Concubine Cheung.
The man in black kneels down on one knee. "Your Highness, we have discovered that Royal Physician Chun Ying still lives. He is disguised as a common peasant, but he never stays in one location for long periods."
Concubine Cheung, eyes blazing with anger, spats, "What?! The old man still lives? If word leaks out that I have bribed the Royal Physician twenty-five years ago to conceal Concubine Chan's pregnancy from the Emperor, then I will be executed!" She paces the room, as she mutters to herself. "But what else could I do back then? If he knew that she was pregnant at that time, he would have never let her go, and I would have had to live in that hussy's shadow forever!"
The man in black stands up and attempts to reassure her. "But nobody knows whether or not the former Concubine Chan's baby survived. Maybe she had a miscarriage."
Concubine Cheung turns to look at the man in black. "But we don't know whether or not she had a miscarriage. If the baby has survived and the child happens to be a boy, then the Emperor will have an heir, and our plans to usurp the throne will be ruined!"
The man in black comes up behind Concubine Cheung and starts massaging her shoulders intimately. "Don't worry. We know Concubine Chan's eldest son fits the age requirement and therefore may in fact be the prince. All we have to do is kill her son and Royal Physician Chun and nobody will be able to stop us from becoming the next rulers."
Concubine Cheung smiles evilly as she thinks this over. "Yes… And while you are at it, send someone to murder that hussy, Concubine Chan, also. I am sick and tired of hearing that stupid, lovesick Emperor lament about how much he misses his 'gentle lily.'" Her mouth twists into an ugly sneer, but immediately changes into a seductive smile as she looks up at her companion.
The couple exchange sly smiles before kissing passionately.
THAT SAME MORNING
AT GOLDEN PHOENIX INN
IN SUI HAN AND YIK LUN'S ROOM
Sunlight streams through the opened window of their inn room. Lun opens his eyes and immediately squints against the bright rays. He blinks several times and spies Sui Han looking out the window, enthralled with something on the streets below.
Lun gets up and walks over to curiously look over her shoulder. "What is going on down there?"
Sui Han is nearly hanging out of the window, engrossed with the street parade, since she has never seen one before. Upon hearing Lun's approach, she turns to him excitedly.
Sui Han brims with enthusiasm. “First Young Master, look at that lion dancer!" She points at the entertainer in the streets and claps her hands together with awe.
Lun gives her an indulgent look. "Would you like to go downstairs for a better view?"
Sui Han nods happily. "Yes! Yes!"
Not wanting to miss any minute of the parade, she grabs his hand and drags him quickly out the door of their room and down the stairs.
IN FEI AND KEUNG'S ROOM ACROSS THE HALL
Awaken by the loud clamor of footsteps running by his room, Fei opens his door to investigate, thinking that Keung has returned from purchasing breakfast.
As he swings open his door, he catches a glimpse of the rear view of a young woman who suspiciously looks like Sui Han. His eyes narrow dangerously as he realizes that she is intimately holding another man's hand…