Bai Qian didn’t know what upset her most. The fact that Ming had paid for sex yet didn’t see her as a woman or the point he liked her better as a man. Either way, it was a severe blow to her already weakened ego, and she felt foolish for desiring a man who wasn’t the slightest bit interested in her.
Ming preferred a streetwalker over her. He fancied a harlot over a queen known for her unparalleled beauty. It was baffling to the point of absurdity. It was also perplexing how distressful it felt.
A man who said she looked better as a boy. Why did it feel so raw and painful to know he’d been with many women, yet failed to recognize the woman before him? After today, Bai Qian would never return to the mortal man who lived alone at the base of Mount Junji. His name, Ming Hua, would be a name she’d forever wiped from her memories.
Mostly dried was her silken gown when Bai Qian changed back into her clothes. With great care, she meticulously folded his clothes, placed them neatly on his bed and lightly stroked the soft cotton material with her fingertips. It was something out of her control, and unable to stop herself, she lifted the soft muted colored robe and deeply inhaled the tear inducing smell…Ming’s scent. It was warm like sunlight and clean like a summer rain shower.
It was strange considering Bai Qian never touched or kissed him, but the fragrance of his clothes made her eyes involuntarily water. It was all the endless possibilities. All the wishes, desires and dreams, she’d secretly harbored, but unfortunately, nothing came to fruition. Now she was left only with the profound feeling of foolishness, stupidity, and folly. She had nobody to blame but herself.
There wasn’t any need to prolong the inevitable hurtful conclusion. It was time for Bai Qian to clear her debt and not use it as an excuse to return. In the end, the mortal had defeated her spirit and entirely crushed her hopes.
Bai Qian used her magic to create five pounds of truffles and left them in his kitchen. Wistfully she glanced around one last time and steadily walked towards the exit. She found him sitting on the front steps of his porch carving what appeared like a bird out of wood.
She pointed to the pile of rare mushrooms and stated, “That’s five pounds so we’re even and debt free.”
Walking down the stairs and past him, she softly said, “Be happy, Ming. I’m delighted to have met you, and I won’t be coming back after today. Ever.”
Bai Qian was already halfway in the yard when he yelled, “Princess, I have nothing to offer you!”
With a single graceful spin, Bai Qian turned back and softly replied, “I never wanted anything from you. In actuality, I desired to give you something.”
“I don’t want your money, riches or handouts. I don’t need anyone’s charity.” Ming stated somewhat defensively.
She smiled, but there was such an element of sorrow on her face when she answered, “Ming, never once did I see or think of you as a charity case. What I wanted to give you is priceless and one of a kind. No amount of money in the world could buy it, but it appears you’re not ready or equip to handle such a grandiose offering.”
“Princess, I told you from the start that I wasn’t going to accept anything from you.” Ming obstinately asserted, still cutting into the wood.
Bai Qian momentarily dropped her gaze. She had tears running down her face but continued to smile. “Yes, you did, but I tend to be a bit headstrong and stubborn. For some ridiculous notion, I thought perhaps you might change your mind after you realized, what I wanted to give you was my love.”
He appeared angry when Ming hollered, “I don’t want your love!”
With a heavy sigh, Bai Qian nodded that she understood and sadly replied, “I know. I’ve finally come to understand that fact with absolute certainty. Goodbye, Ming.”
The situation was so unfortunate that Bai Qian sorrowfully turned her back, took small steps away from him but unbelievably found herself subconsciously counting in her mind. Privately she prayed that perhaps all hope wasn’t gone. She slowly counted down five, four, three, two, o…
“Princess, I’m frightened!” Ming openly confessed.
Immediately she spun back around and questioned perplexed entirely, “Ming, what in the world about me could make you so afraid?”
He hesitated and slightly tilted his head to one side, defeated sighed and replied, “Let’s say I admit to being in love with you and then what? We’ll have an affair, have some fun and you’ll end up leaving. How do you think that would make me feel?”
Chuckling Bai Qian explained, “If I were here to have a small affair then I would have allowed you to take me on the field that day. Also, Ming, I would never leave you first as long as you don’t betray me.”
“What guarantee can you give me to convince me that you won’t leave?” Asked Ming who was nervously chewing on his bottom lip.
Bai Qian briefly looked up at the late afternoon sky, shook her head amused and replied, “I guess you’ll just have to trust me and have faith in my words.”
He adamantly shook his head ‘no’ and stated, “That’s not good enough for me. I need more commitment from you. I’ll believe you if you marry me.”
Ming unceremoniously just verbally tossed it out. He thought there wasn’t any way she would accept his absurd terms. He watched her expression of pure shock and wondered how long before she’d fled.
“Marriage?!” Princess asked wide-eyed and stunned.
Ming casually nodded ‘yes’ and waited in expectation to watch her run away, but he almost fell over sideways when she firmly responded with resolve, “Marriage it is. Let’s get married!”
She was bluffing so he pushed forward and watched for her reaction and spoke, “It’s too late today but tomorrow? Shall we have the wedding tomorrow? Something small and intimate. Princess, just you and I. What does it matter as long as we’re in love? We’ll do it here.”
Ming broke out into a full sweat when Princess rapidly walked back towards him with a radiant, beaming smile and eagerly stated, “Alright, tomorrow it is, and I’ll become your legal wife. Yes, we can bow to heaven and earth from here. Furthermore, I have items I’ve saved aside in anticipation of marriage, so I’ll see you tomorrow, Ming, my dear husband to be!”
Giggling Princess turned back and happily, skipped away. At the edge of his front yard, smiling she turned back once more, waved and disappeared into the woods.
In an utter daze, Ming sat on the steps after she’d gone and wondered what just happened. Surely she wasn’t coming back tomorrow, was she? He had to give it to Princess for being one convincing actress. She was better than the ones at the tea house.
He privately wondered if her family owned many performing troupes, that went around delivering dramatic shows and singing operas. Or were her family wealthy merchants or owners of a fleet of ships, because Princess was theatrical and seemed to have an unlimited supply of pearls at any given moment.
Ming laughed inwardly at the humor of the silly situation. He knew she wouldn’t be back in the morning, but the sheer idea of marrying her was inexplicably amusing and even exciting. The expression of complete shock on her face when he suggested marriage made him chuckle all night. He went to bed with a smile on his face, and considered his time with Princess was indeed enjoyable and if nothing else an utterly entertaining joke.
But the joke was on Ming because he walked out of his hut to find Princess dressed in scarlet with a wedding altar already prepared. He was speechless and stood rapidly blinking trying to understand the unbelievable situation at hand. Blissfully she smiled and handed him a box somewhat coyly.
Blushing she declared, “Ming, that’s your outfit so go change, and I’ll wait right here.”
“How did you prepare all this? These are things you’ve had in storage waiting for a wedding?” Ming’s voice was soft in utter disbelief.
Princess nodded ‘yes’ somewhat proudly and cheerfully replied, “Yes, I’m one of those who prefers always to be prepared because you never know. I had all this waiting for my special day.”
“With my special man of choice so go change your clothes. Quickly.” Princess blushed and demurely looked down at the ground.
Ming was entirely dumbfounded. How could she have prepared all this without waking him? Just how in the world did she transport everything up to the mountain? There were some strange and unexplained things about Princess. Like leaving five pounds of truffles in the kitchen the day before. She was with him all day so when did she find them? Also, he weighed it out of curiosity, and it was precisely five pounds on the dot. Now this incredible task of preparing a proper wedding altar on an isolated mountainside?
He scratched his head in confusion and nervously asked, “Princess, what’s the rush? Perhaps we should think about this a bit longer.”
Princess playfully hit Ming in the chest but she was strong, so it hurt a bit. She blushed deep crimson, shyly raised her gaze and immediately dropped it to the ground. She held her hands in front and twisted her body side to side, like a young girl confessing her love to a boy on the school playground.
Rapidly, she bashfully hid behind her hands. With her face concealed and body swaying horizontally, she snickered and replied, “You know why! Now hurry and go change your clothes!”
His legs almost gave out on him. Ming nearly fell to the ground as she continued to cover up her red face to hide her apparent embarrassment.
Still hidden behind both hands, she giggled, snickered and added, “It will be our wedding night afterward!”
Ming tensely coughed and asked, “Princess, are your father’s henchmen going to come and take me away? Perhaps chain concrete around my feet and throw me into the sea if you marry me?”
She swiftly uncovered her face and asked, “What are you talking about? My father gets motion sickness on boats.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to marry you but your family might be a tad disappointed and try to kill me. So perhaps it would be prudent if we pondered on this a bit longer?” Ming suggested with a tiny nervous smile on his face.
The demure, shy expression instantly vanished, and her eyes suspiciously narrowed as Princess challenged, “Ming! Are you trying to back out now? Is this what’s happening? Hm?”
“No, no, Princess, of course not. I’ll go change immediately.” Ming lightly cleared his throat and turned to walk into his hut.
He didn’t know why but she looked quite scary at that very moment, but he glanced back, and the coy, shy expression had returned, and Princess was covering her blushing face and giggling like a schoolgirl.
To be continued…….