An unintentional shivering tremble ran through his body at the mere mention of her baked goods. The frightening and disturbing thought of more, of Lifen’s moon-cakes in his life was somewhat horrific. Mo Yuan rose to leave when without a moment’s hesitation or pause, her firm grasp stopped him from moving any further. Not such an insurmountable feat considering he wanted to stay, as his begrudging steps were already slow and delayed. Instinctively while glancing at her persistent hold, he sadly noticed her dehydrated and weathered hands. The stirring emotions generated by the way she stared intently, and intensely into his eyes with her glimmering, hopeful but pleading gaze made it impossible for him to walk away.
Lifen’s small hands weren’t ones that fitted a young woman who wasn’t yet even twenty years old. Instead, wholly contrarily they were red, blotchy with many cuts from constant overexposure to water, giving them the appearance of hands belonging to someone older. During their earlier conversation, she’d offhandedly mentioned her fears of doing laundry all her life. He inwardly pondered if her illiteracy and lack of schooling were a contributing factor, or possibility why she’d tragically ended up in a brothel.
It would be harmless, entirely benign to see her now and then just to teach her without ever using his magic. If Mo Yuan’s minor guidance and tutelage could keep her from being sold into a bordello, it was worth whatever risk he was taking.
However, for further precautionary purposes, Mo Yuan did shield the peach farm while he was with her so nobody in Heaven would see or hear them.
The emotional sentiment washed over him abruptly leaving Mo Yuan feeling blue, and astonishingly melancholy. In all honesty, he wanted nothing more than to rush her back home, and his eyes instinctively grew moist and teary. “I can’t come regularly. Perhaps only once in a great while. How will you know I’m here?”
Alike the glorious sun so splendidly bright and beamingly, Lifen’s entire face lit up beautifully. Including great sincerity, she enthusiastically replied, “I’ll come anytime! Regularly everyday without fail, I’ll come after I’ve done all my chores and my job in town!”
Lifen was still in the midst of her obvious exhilaration when she swiftly dropped her gaze, demurely and inquired coyly. “Shifu, I know I’m not in the position to ask but could we possibly meet at night after my father goes to bed? If he found out I was learning to read and write, he’d be outraged.”
A worrisome deep sigh of reflection and concern escaped his lips, because it was dangerous for a young woman to be wandering alone at night. Mo Yuan questioned, “How will you know when I’m here if it’s dark?”
“I’ll leave sky lanterns in the bushes right here!” She rapidly bounced up from her sitting position and pointed wildly to the thick shrubbery behind them.
Her eyes twinkled as Lifen guaranteed, “If you light it, I’ll see it and come to you anytime. I’m just fortunate that you’re considering teaching me, Shifu. Please have another pastry.”
Deliberately Mo Yuan added his information so not to disappoint her, “I can’t make any promises but I’ll try to see you once in a while, and I can’t give you any specific times or dates. If I come, I’ll return at night but what about your mother? Won’t she notice your absence?”
“My mother has passed away. I killed her. She died giving birth to me but don’t worry. My father treats me like pure gold so I do not lack anything! I’m very fortunate!” Lifen swiftly replied with a cheery grin, and made the repetitive hand motion for Mo Yuan to continue eating.
He purposely closed up the bundled package most gingerly as if he cherished them and lied, “They’re so delicious that I’d like to savor the flavor and eat them slowly. I’ll take them with me.”
“Shifu, please feel free to eat them all!” Lifen joyously babbled.
He sucked in sharply when she promptly reached backward much to Mo Yuan’s anxieties and nervousness. Lifen had more hidden behind her body and the size of the package was disconcerting, but he put on his best poker face.
Spontaneously while pushing a much more massive bundle towards Mo Yuan, she announced gleefully, “I made more so you could take them with you because I had a feeling you would enjoy them! As I said, they’re highly addictive!”
A small smile came to his lips as Mo Yuan readily accepted both packages, stood to leave but felt her little dry hands grab him again urgently, she gazed hard into his eyes and implored, “Shifu, you will come back, won’t you? Do you promise? At least once? Please!”
The look of sheer desperation in Lifen’s questioning and begging stare was almost, no, it was utterly heartbreaking. Mo Yuan merely replied even though he wanted to take her away with him, “I promise you that I’ll return. I’ll come back at least once so next time we meet, bring paper, ink, brush and a candle if we’re going to study in the dark.”
Her sweet voice came out in a rushed whisper, “Thank you, Shifu. Would you like me to walk you out of the orchard so you don’t get lost?”
He smiled at her consideration and held back the overpowering urge to kiss her forehead, realizing Lifen had many of Bai Qian’s traits. He shook his head ‘no’ and Mo Yuan saw her follow his every step with her keen eyes, as he turned and faded away among the many countless fruit trees.
It was another restless night as he nervously tossed and turned in bed. Even without hearing a word, he knew the harassment and verbal torment from Zhe Yan was probably going be endless. Ultimately enamored after hundreds of thousands of years, High God Mo Yuan with the tiny white fox babe, who’d once piddled on his shoes when she was a newborn.
As much as he wanted to rejoice in his newfound sentimental emotion, her dainty, delicate hands kept returning to his mind’s eye. The disturbing image of her weathered hands haunted Mo Yuan’s thoughts and refused to fade. He found himself longing for her presence so he grasped the only thing he possessed that she’d touched. The outer cloth around the baked goods once belonged to her.
Mo Yuan fondly gazed at the packages of treats made by Lifen, and noticed that she’d creatively tied the corners together in a specific way, that resembled a butterfly in flight. A pleased smile spread across his face as he gingerly undid the ends feeling somewhat regretful to open, and ruin such beautiful packaging.
How flawlessly she’d carefully wrapped the material around the little moon-cakes. While studying her beautiful handiwork, he finally noticed how Lifen had perfectly embroidered three colorful butterflies, on the neutral cotton fabrics with her little overworked fingers.
The impeccably, fastidious stitching was perfect even down to the butterflies six legs on the hemp-like textiles. Lifen had meticulously with great care, bundled around the round mung bean filled pastries. The delicacies she’d made for him daily for two years straight.
All he could do was laugh. The shapeless, green, globules of cake he examined them again in great detail. He deliberated how they could be so incredibly awful. It took real talent to make something edible taste so remarkably wrong.
Nevertheless, her extreme thoughtfulness and endearing efforts didn’t go unrecognized by him, so he found himself eating them, one after the another. Mo Yuan automatic stuffed them into his mouth and thought about Bai Qian with every bite. Anxiously looking forward to her trial coming to an end so he could tease her about her disastrous baking.
Yes, they were the most disastrous flavored sweets he’d ever chewed into but they were also strangely, inexplicably addictive. Maybe an acquired taste because before he knew it, Mo Yuan had eaten almost all of them.
Again, the picture of Lifen’s small chapped, water damaged hands drifted back into his mind and made it difficult to swallow the cakes. She was only eighteen years old and at the peak of her youthful bloom. But the disturbing mental image of her doing laundry in the dead of winter wouldn’t disappear. Immortal or mortal, Bai Qian was sauntering, strolling, traveling through his brain making him worry, anxious and uneasy again…still.
It was a feeble attempt because Mo Yuan couldn’t relax anyways and sleep wasn’t anywhere near. Considering he’d already been thinking about Bai Qian, he decided to visit her in the mortal realm.
One year time had passed but just as she’d stated, the air lanterns Mo Yuan found them in the bushes instantly. It was conceivably close to midnight and it was still cold at night even though it was the beginning of spring. He half doubted she would come but lit the lights and waited anyway.
He watched them lazily hovered in the night sky and the lights slowly drifted, floated up into the evening air when Mo Yuan heard the sound of fast running. Panting, winded breathes as she came flying through the darkness between the peach trees.
Swiftly and wordlessly she lit the candles, as Mo Yuan noticed Lifen’s soft cheeks were red and rosy from exertion. Her two long braids were somewhat messy with a bit of loose hair fringing and hanging in her face. In her slender arms a straw basket with a roll of paper, ink and a brush. All the things he’d requested during their last conversation.
In Mo Yuan’s mind he concluded it would be safer not to bring anything from Kunlun Mountain. The least amount of contact with items from the eternal realm, or anything magical would be more harmless for her and himself. Their private meetings were extraordinarily complicated and against the rules, so discretion was an essential aspect of their forbidden encounters.
Lifen promptly dropped the container with all products from her arms, folded over, placed her palms on her knees and struggled to catch her winded breath. The chill made her labored exhales visible even in the semi-darkness. Mo Yuan lit the rest of the small candles and setup a makeshift learning area with the paper, ink and brush.
In between deep blows she panted with airy words, “Shifu, you kept your promise! I didn’t know when you were coming, but I did extra laundry in town so I could buy all the things you mentioned. The paper, brush and ink. I have everything!”
“The paper isn’t the best quality but it was more expensive than I expected but I got everything ready for you, Shifu!” Lifen proudly stated as she sat on her knees and firmly beside Mo Yuan in eager exuberance.
It never once crossed his mind as Mo Yuan quickly glanced at her red hands, to see Lifen hide them shyly in her lap. He felt utterly unwise and foolhardy for not considering, she’d have to buy the articles readily available to himself on Kunlun Mountain. He’d never thought she’d have to do more work just to purchase everything.
The candlelight caught her appearance, Mo Yuan finally took a good look at her beautiful face, and Lifen had grown even more lovely during the year’s time. She was starting to resemble her immortal state.
Curiously Mo Yuan asked in a soft voice, “Do you live close to the orchard? How can you see the lanterns? How did you know when I’d come?”
“Shifu, I’ve watched for you from the roof of my home all night long! I’ve done it every evening ever since we met last year! Even in winter! I live on the other side of the farm with my father and if I run all the way, I can be here in less than twenty minutes. I didn’t want to keep you waiting so I sprinted as if a ghost was chasing me!” Lifen joyfully clapped her hands together and giggled entirely delighted, unable to hide her pure gladness to see Mo Yuan again.
A random thought spontaneously crossed his mind as Mo Yuan questioned, “Lifen, have you ever considered it’s dangerous to meet strange men at night in an isolated place like this. Please don’t meet any other unknown men late at night.”
“You’re not a strange man, Shifu. I’ve been dreaming about you since I was a little girl. I recognized you immediately from my dreams.” Her eyes flickered when Lifen honestly declared with absolute resolve and he believed her.
How swiftly recognition dawned on her face, of course she had misunderstood Mo Yuan’s concern and interpreted it as something more amorous. Lifen smiled slyly before adding with a titter, “I see why you don’t want me to meet any other men. You must be a jealous type. I understand your hidden message and I won’t meet any other men but you.”
His face went blank instantly and Mo Yuan asked inquisitively, “What hidden message?”
To be continued…..