White-haired diety, Dong Hua, the Emperor Lord, one of the oldest five Great Kings of Heaven, had never coveted attention, reverence, or praise. His had been a long life, even for an immortal. His long silky hair had once been shiny raven black but now was the color of snow reflective of his advanced age of which he didn’t even know.
Donghui had seen much, perhaps too much, so he preferred the peaceful, silent living within his quiet abode Taichen Palace. He avoided getting entangled in anything political, the same way others evade stepping in heaps of dung in their path. To him, politics and feces were quite similar in nature, messy. Hence, he had withdrawn from Celestial matters long ago, but Ye Hua and Mo Yuan were both gone. He hadn’t any other alternative except to intercede after discovering A-Li’s transgressions.
“Lord Donghui, you’re wisdom will forever amazing me.” Star Lord Si Ming, the writer of human fates, bowed to his master in awe and respect.
Humbly standing a few paces behind Donghui, Si Ming stood with one hooked arm across his abdomen and the other oppositely on his lower back. The chatty deity continued to share his thoughts, “I believe Crown Prince A-Li’s insecurities derive from thinking Gugu abandoned him. That’s his weakness.”
Donghui didn’t say a word while Si Ming chatted on, “Aya, within us all, there is both light and darkness. If not correctly taught, he could fall into the dark, lacking proper discipline and self-control. He is the youngest immortal ever to undergo a mortal trial and calamity. However, he must heed vanity, ego, and his emotional vulnerabilities could become his downfall.”
“May Crown Prince A-Li learn from his human trial.” Most impassively, the deity of few words and concerns, Donghui answered between sips of his tea.
Ye Hua wouldn’t have gone into the healer’s home had it not been a pressing necessity. She was Bai Qian’s only chance of survival, so he pushed his anxious feelings aside. He took in the cabin with unbias eyes, and it looked much like others he had seen throughout his travels. His scanning gaze touched, skimming over the simple and essential household items in the small kitchen from outside determining, nothing looked out of the ordinary.
Since she was a physician, the herby air smelled correct herbaceous medicines and tonics in different brew phases. It was a bit astringent, pungent, but not unpleasant, as it penetrated his sense of smell. That natural olfaction around him gave him a subtle sense of relief that everything was as it seemed, but what alarmed him was why did he know, the first step, the flat wooden plank would have a snail-shaped marking on the left, and it was there. And how did he know there would be a smoothened indentation on the right side of the more exceeding reddish-hued second-level lumber board again? He was correct. Whatever it was, nothing could express the inner shock he underwent when he predicted there would be a red wedding quilt on the bamboo framed bed, and there was.
A string of unspoken profanities hung on his tongue. His entire backside broke out in a cold, nervous sweat, and all his body hairs stood on ends. Black flashing dots appeared before his eyes. It felt as if someone had his racing heart in a firm fist in his rapidly constricted chest. That tightness was quickly traveling to his head, giving him an instant crushing headache.
It took every ounce of self-control within him not to bolt out after carefully placing Bai Qian on the bed, being extra vigilant not to touch the crimson matrimony blanket. He barely got out the words due to the massive anxiety attack he was undergoing, “Tell this veiled healer nothing—only speak of Bai Qian’s ailments. Don’t mention any of our names, who we are, or where we’re going. If you say too much, I’ll have no choice but to silence her forever.” Ye Hua commanded Sujin and swiftly rushed outside because he felt winded, out of breath, and his legs trembled floppy like overcooked miàn noodles.
Qing Yuan had been tending to the horses outside but swiftly glanced up when he saw Ye Hua’s frazzled state. He studied his friend with concern and asked, “Hey friend, you’re as pale as a white jade stone. Did you see a ghost? That small healer gives off unusual energy. It’s not negative or malicious, so I trust her and deem you can also. She’s a lifesaver. We all needed to rest. YeYe, you haven’t slept in days.”
“Still, is it wise to leave Bai Qian with that stranger? Shouldn’t one of us men be inside also on guard or something? Since you’re out here, should I go in?” Qing Yuan asked while removing the reins and harnessed from the weary horses. They had been riding hard for three days straight. Both beasts and human companions alike had felt the fatigue.
Ye Hua pretended to ignore him because he couldn’t form a rational thought yet. He acted as if he didn’t care what was happening inside the cabin and went straight to his horse for a long-overdue conversation. Staring his traitorous horse down, Ye Hua scolded in a low disciplinary tone, “Really? How could you? You didn’t even hesitate to leave.”
Now sounding like a forsaken lover, he asked of his horse, “Did I even cross your mind? You didn’t even glance back once.” With his extended index and third fingers, Ye Hua motioned to his eyes before moving to his mount’s big round amber-brown long-lashed eyes and reprimanded in a hushed buzz, “I was watching you the entire time.”
The massive black stallion nicked and neighed in reply, swaying his thickly maned head and long tail, flicked, waving back and forth, back and forth. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. You two-timing beast.” Ye Hua raised his hand and firmed rebutted, “Don’t use that pathetic excuse. Yes, I’m sure her backside was more enjoyable than mine, but what about all the times we’ve shared. I’m not going to forget or forgive what you did. Now, I will brush you but know this, and I’m doing it because I have to and not because I want it.”
While he unloaded his horse’s saddle, Ye Hua wasn’t even thinking when his tired from the journey voice mumbled, “Qing Yuan, there might be some hay for the horses behind the cottage and maybe some firewood by the water well. You and I will camp out here and let the girls do what they must. I haven’t much faith in this mysterious healer, but Lady Bai Qian will return home either, dead or alive. Her family deserves to mourn her properly.”
Qing Yuan’s eyes flew open, growing enormous, round like saucers when he asked in a startled, hushed whisper, “Hua’er, how did you know about the hay, wood, and water well behind the hut? I’m sure you clearly stated there was nothing up here after you scouted the area this morning.” He scratched his head with a befuddled expression on his face but continued to converse casually, “Oh, and I was thinking. We should use a pseudonym for Bai Qian during this trip. She’s a bit of a legend; I was thinking something plain, ordinary, and neutral. Su? How about we all call her, SuSu?”
SuSu? Why did that name make his head feel like it was exploding? He gasped. Ye Hua’s small eyes widened then darted immediately towards his friend. The leather saddle in his arms dropped to the ground before his body staggered forward as he too collapsed and passed out beside it.
Maybe it was from travel weariness, anxiety, tension, or something he couldn’t explain even if he tried, regardless of the cause; Ye Hua didn’t awake until the following day. Upon opening his eyes, he understood his task of safely escorting Mo Yuan’s future wife home had become ever more challenging, and that wasn’t because she had died in the night.
No, Ye Hua wasn’t that lucky.
Returning Bai Qian’s corpse would have been more manageable. No, No, sweet lady luck did not shine on him. Instead, that naughty harlot ill fortune, she had thrown another quandary his way—the dying girl from the day before had miraculously recovered overnight. Whatever the healer did, it must have been magical because she was glowing radiantly all plump rosy-cheeked as if she had never been sick at all.
There she was, all sunshine and bright-eyed dressed in a baby blue, canary yellow, and white silk hanbok. Bai Qian dangled the norigae strings, the butterfly-shaped jade accessory’s cords from her dress onto an unknown parcel in her arms. She noticed Ye Hua stirring and smiled broadly, showing all her teeth, and squealed in utter delight.
She chirped like a bird, “Good, you’re awake. Fourth Prince, you’ll never guess what we found! Never in a million years will you guess correctly! Look! We found a baby in the forest, and he’s beautiful.” She gushed and twirled, causing her puffy belled-shaped dress to flare out, so her skirt rose, flashing her petticoat, her private unmentionables for the whole world to see. Scandalous.
“She turned her attention back to the swaddle in her cradled arms and cooed, “Kkakkung. Duǒ māo māo. Peekaboo. I see you, chubby little riceball. I’m going to be your momma from now on, and mama loves you.”
What kind of nonsense was this? The dying female he thought the grim reaper had indeed taken to the afterlife was currently playing peekaboo in different dialects with a random baby she discovered in the unpopulated forest. With both hands, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. It wasn’t a hallucination. This unbelievable situation was really happening to him. Ye Hua’s jaw slacked in confusion, and this time, profanities flew spewing from his lips.
He cursed, “Fuck my complicated fucking life! Who the hell left a bloody baby in this fucking desolate forest! Whomever it was, I’m going to find them and kill them with my bare hands!”
Ye Hua fumed, his face reddened as his blood pressure spiked, but Bai Qian kept snickering and talking in her baby voice. To make matters worse, Qing Yuan and SuJin created a circle and were all cooing at the pooping bundle of trouble and stress!
“Put IT back where you found it! That’s the last thing we need!” Ye Hua ordered, speaking in his loudest voice, but nobody was listening, and nobody cared.
To be continued…