Lifen’s ill-fated would-be husband was the young man who was originally meant to save her, and lived in the neighboring village. Between the two communities, there was a single bridge over a rapidly flowing river that separated the towns. That was the only way in and out. Since Mo Yuan knew someone in Celestial Heaven would recognize his magic, he merely used his physical strength and destroyed the bridge making it impossible for the man to cross.
He then went to the lake and waited for Lifen to appear which she did as scheduled. She rowed a little boat out into the center of the lake. She mistakenly dropped her oar, reached out too far, lost her footing and fell into the water. She couldn’t swim. Mo Yuan being a strong swimmer, directly swam out and pulled her back to land but she wasn’t breathing and turning blue.
He immediately pumped the water out of her lungs, began mouth to mouth resuscitation to restart her breathing. After a couple of hefty blows, Lifen violently coughed up water and began to stir. She sat up confused and stared bewildered at a soaking wet Mo Yuan.
Lifen swiftly touched her lips and softly murmured incredulously, “My first kiss.”
“No, not a kiss. I just saved your life.” Mo Yuan immediately clarified her confusion.
In a shocked voice full of reverence she whispered, “Sir, you saved my life! I’m forever indebted to you. My name is Lifen, may I ask your name so I may thank you properly?”
“There isn’t any need to know my name. We’ll never see each other again. Be careful around the lake.” Mo Yuan calmly replied as he walked away from her casually.
Lifen chased after him but tripped on her wet dress. She yelled out, “Sir, can I repay you for my life debt?!”
He paused, spun around, peered down at her and briefly noticed something metallic shiny on the ground but nonchalantly advised, “Yes, stay away from the boy in the neighboring village. He’s not for you.”
Mo Yuan returned to Kunlun Mountain, assumed his action wouldn’t be too detrimental, and hopefully saved Bai Qian a bit of grief from her heavenly trial. It was then he finally realized the mysterious shiny item that caught his eyes in the mortal realm was, unfortunately, his hair ornament which was a customized gift from Heavenly Lord. He knew it was probably a lost cause, but now had a legitimate reason to return to the mortal world and hopefully see her again.
Two years later…..
She was right where he’d left her. In the very same spot which was surprising as two years had passed since her almost drowning. Mortal Bai Qian now Lifen, casually sat crossed legged, calmingly staring off towards the lake with a somewhat substantial bundle in her lap. She saw Mo Yuan instantly and ran to him excitedly. Beaming with a lovely smile that curled up her lips.
She exclaimed happily, “Sir! I was wondering when you’d return?”
In her small open palm, she presented the specific item of what Mo Yuan was searching. The gift from Heavenly Lord, his misplaced headgear.
Lifen shyly blushed, nibbled her bottom lip, nervously glanced back and forth from the ground to his gaze and softly spoke, “I guess my assumption was correct. As expected, I thought you might be back for this. It looked expensive and valuable. Sir, I’ve come everyday and waited for when you’d return for it.”
“It’s been two years. How did you know when to come out here?” Mo Yuan asked entirely surprised by her statement and indeed more perplexed to see her waiting, considering he was delayed and unable to return right away.
She politely and promptly handed his shiny hair ornament into his extended palm with much enthusiasm. She adamantly nodded her head ‘yes’ and gushed, “Sir, you’re my savior! I’ve come faithfully everyday for the past two years without missing a single day! Ever!”
“Thank you for finding it for me and take care.” Mo Yuan graciously replied and tried to make a swift retreat but his endeavor was in vain.
Abruptly yanking on his robe pulling him until he was firmly sitting on the grass. Lifen kowtowed to a stiff, rigid, uncomfortable Mo Yuan in gratitude for saving her life. Anxiously sat on her knees across from him and pushed the clothed bundle towards him.
“I don’t own anything of value because I’m only a lowly farm girl, but I was raised properly by my father and know how to repay my debts. I know it’s not much but please, Sir, take this humble offering as a token of my eternal gratitude.” She giggled nervously and urged Mo Yuan to open the bundle with a big grin on her face.
In a gentle, soft tone Mo Yuan replied while striving to rise from his seated position, “There’s no need to thank me. I merely did what anyone else would have done had they been there. Thank you for finding my headgear. Goodbye.”
Lifen was very bold much to her immortal self, forcibly grabbed his garment, roughly yanked and made him repeatedly sit against his will.
With great pride and bated breath, she carefully opened the clothed package for Mo Yuan’s viewing and displayed what appeared to be moon-cakes. They were the ugliest moon-cakes he’d ever seen in his long eternal life. The top design was most likely a lotus flower but instead, it looked more like a fat starfish with too many arms or an octopus with too few.
“I made these myself! I’ve come here everyday rain or shine for two years straight with pastries for you! Even on sick days! I’ve never missed a day. I know my little gift is humble and utterly lacking for saving my life, but please do me the honor of sampling one because I made them especially for you.” Lifen pridefully presented, pushed them towards Mo Yuan and scrutinized him with eager, awaiting eyes.
Mo Yuan gawked with total surprise and asked dumbfounded, “You’ve come every single day for the past two years continuous, and brought these moon-cakes for me always? Are these cakes two years old?”
“No, of course not! Sir, for you I make them fresh daily. These are very new from this morning. Please try one. They’re strangely addictive and I have a feeling you’re going to love my delicacies. My secret is peaches! Oh, and mung beans that’s why they’re green.” She declared assuredly and intently watched for his reaction keenly.
He hesitantly and dallied while she followed his hand with a fixed anticipating stare. Mo Yuan lifted one and studied the little green blob-like delicacy carefully. It was incredibly dense, hefty and too bulky for a cake.
Lifen excitedly motioned by raising her hand repeatedly for him to take a bite, while expectantly staring at him with giant round eyes. Mo Yuan realized she wasn’t going to allow him to leave unless he ate one.
The moss green cakes weren’t pretty or ascetically pleasing but he knew never to judge a book by its cover. After all, the consideration and thought behind the gesture was wholehearted.
Politely he bit into one, his eyes immediately fully widened in complete wonder, surprise and bewilderment. The uniquely odd flavor! It was an incomprehensible mystery, because it was one of the most terrible tasting things he’d ever put into his mouth. Terrible was a massive understatement and it was almost impossible to swallow.
“Very different.” Was all Mo Yuan could say in response, and she beamed radiantly from his satisfied reaction to her baking skills.
What was exactly wrong with the moon-cakes? Everything. It tasted as if Lifen used salt instead of sugar, the breading or dough was exceptionally hard, tough and strangely chewy at the same time. But she was closely gawking at him, eagerly nodding her head ‘yes’ with big sparkling brown eyes and grinning with pure pleasure.
“Do you like them? Of course, you do! I can tell you love them! I didn’t want to brag before you tasted one but I’m known for my baking skills!” Lifen snickered joyfully, her eyebrows wagged indicatively and she smiled in a way that showed all her perfect white teeth.
Mo Yuan choked on the dry mass in his mouth and asked in a low tone of utter bewilderment, “You’ve tasted these? Other people like them too? Really!?”
Lifen sat up more upright on her knees and loudly boasted, “Yes! Everyone goes crazy for them and loves them! Sir, what do you do? Your profession, I mean?”
It was the perfect opportunity to avoid eating another cake so Mo Yuan decided to answer her question. After all, it was rude and impolite to speak with a mouth full of food. He figured the more he talked, the less he’d have to eat.
“I’m a teacher.” Mo Yuan lightly replied after clearing his throat and wished for a giant cup of water or tea, no, powerful wine to wash away all traces of the strange flavor lingering on his tongue.
She glimmered and remarked, “Like a Shifu? Please have another cake. I can tell you like them. You don’t have to be polite in front of me.”
Reluctantly and hesitantly, Mo Yuan gingerly picked up another piece but it was difficult not to grimace, and responded to delay for more time, “Lifen, I teach a little of this and a little of that.”
Ecstatically, she jumped up to hear Mo Yuan speak her name, edged closer to him and giddily gushed, “I can’t believe you remembered my name! I wish you were my Shifu! I bet you’re a wonderful teacher. Are you married, Shifu?”
“No, I’m not married. Is there something you’d like to learn, Lifen?” Mo Yuan invited entirely amused by her because he suddenly realized how much he missed Bai Qian’s animated happy company.
Lifen’s cheeks instantly flushed, she fluttered, batted her eyelashes and loudly exclaimed happily, “Shifu, you’re not married?! THAT’S PERFECT!”
“I mean, I’d love to learn how to read and write. My father said education is wasteful on women but if I wasn’t illiterate, perhaps one day I could get a real job instead of doing laundry for the rest of my life. Maybe you could teach me? I’ll pay you! I could give you moon-cakes!” Lifen enthusiastically displayed pure radiance and raised her hopeful, eager gaze towards Mo Yuan.
To be continued…..