After Becoming the Hero's Ex-fiancée - Chapter 29
The Transient Realm (2.2)
If she failed again…
Well, she just had to redouble her efforts.
Zheng Wan was still inwardly anxious, but Cui Wang had already raised his eyes to look at her.
Those eyes were extremely beautiful; the tails of the eyes were long and narrow, and long raven eyelashes cast fan-shaped silhouettes on his face. Candlelight cast overlapping shadows into his eyes; they seemed as if a burning flame had been ignited—and those flames carried a surge of affection.
Zheng Wan only felt that there was a scorching hot, yet icy cold blade hidden in his gaze. It scraped across her face inch by inch, causing a shiver to run down her spine. Her eyes watered from her prolonged staring, and she blinked unknowingly.
Cui Wang nodded and said:
“Zheng Qingwu1, you have indeed been born with an excellent physical appearance.”
With this sentence, Zheng Wan was satisfied.
She wrapped her arm tighter around his. The wide sleeves of her red wedding gown slipped down, revealing a frosty wrist as fair as snow, and red-painted fingernails. Under the candlelight, they actually seemed breathtakingly magnificent.
The two looked at each other, then looked away again, and downed the wine in unison.
A gust of wind suddenly arose; Zheng Wan’s arm was still poised in mid-air when she noticed that the image in the mirror had changed again.
Suddenly, the east turned fish-belly white3—a faint light passed through the paper window screens into the room. It was…
In the mirror, was a playful scene of a lovers’ game in the boudoir: Cui Wang held a thin brush and was painting her eyebrows2 for her. The painting on the wall had also changed to one reflecting the joys of “Zhang Chang Painting His Wife’s Eyebrows”4—the consummation scene had been omitted.
Could it be that the Puppet Mirror actually had a conscience, and knew that it shouldn’t peep into other people’s privacy?
Zheng Wan felt regretful, but she moved automatically in front of the dressing table and sat down. She looked shyly at Cui Wang and said, “Mister– Mister Cui5, you have to hurry, the incense… is about to burn out.”
She took the liberty of addressing him more intimately; Cui Wang did not raise any objections.
He walked up to Zheng Wan, looked back at the Puppet Mirror, and picked out an identical brush from the vanity box. But when the time came to begin drawing, he was troubled.
The little lady’s skin was delicate and white, and she had a pair of thin and curved eyebrows. She was already born with the best appearance, so there was no way to start.
Zheng Wan bit her lip and touched his wrist tentatively; this time, she didn’t meet with any opposition. She held it firmly—it was cold to the touch—and said simply, “Watch this.”
Cui Wang let her guide his hand; he drew lightly from the head of the eyebrow to the peak, then from the peak to the tail. The woman’s skin was as delicate as porcelain. He steadied himself, and finished painting one brow with undivided attention. Zheng Wan let go of his hand; she tilted her small face up at him and urged:
“Hurry up, there is still one more side.”
Cui Wang looked at her silently and saw that the little lady had closed her eyes, so he had no choice but to follow the pattern to draw the other side.
When he finished, he put down the brush and said:
Only then did Zheng Wan open her eyes. She looked in the mirror, and saw the reflection of a woman with a pair of thinly arched brows. It was a rather novel look; the left eyebrow was curved like a new crescent or a willow leaf, thin and soft, while the one on the right… twisted and wriggly, like a fat worm was curved and twisted, like a fat worm on a mulberry leaf.
She hated bugs the most.
Without realising it, Zheng Wan puffed up her cheeks; she found that Cui Wang wore a rare look of embarrassment, pushed her luck and said, “Redraw it.” Her voice took on the usual wheedling tone she used with Father, a little spoiled and pettishly charming.
Cui Wang glanced at the candles and saw that there was still a little left. He gave an “Mm”, and really picked up the brush, wiped clean her right eyebrow again, and started redrawing it.
Zheng Wan tilted her head up and didn’t close her eyes this time. She looked straight at him as the soft silk swept across her cheek. As she gazed at him, her face turned red, but the words that came out were very bold:
“Mister Cui, you are so good looking.”
Cui Wang paused; the little lady’s eyes were clear and innocent, as if all the hidden cunning from before had disappeared, leaving only eyes full of joy and adoration.
He finished the last stroke. When he set the brush down, the sky was bright, and even the Puppet Mirror was shining brightly.
Zheng Wan forced her eyes open, and as tears squeezed out from the strain of the effort, she seemed to see a wisp of smoke rise out of the mirror, and there was a woman’s shrill and bitter laugh in her ear.
“…When at leisure your heart changed, then ‘all hearts are changeable’ is what you claim6… Men are so inconsistent, so fickle! Hahahahahahaha…”
1 Zheng Qingwan: He calls her 郑清芜 (Zheng Qingwu) here instead of 郑菀(Zheng Wan); if you recall from the end of Chapter 1, it is revealed that her courtesy name is Zheng Qingwu, usually used by peers as a mark of respect. (After one has come of age, usually only their elders are allowed to call them by their given name.)
Translator’s note: I thought it might be fun to try to understand her names a little, and this is purely based on my understanding, and not canon! (At least, the author hasn’t mentioned it till now.) The courtesy name is derived from the given name, and expresses virtue or the meaning of the real name in addition to the given name. Zheng Wan’s given name, 菀 (Wan), is used to describe a “lush appearance (of nature), exuberant, flourishing, luxuriant”. The first character of her courtesy name, 清 (Qing), means ‘clear’, and can also mean ‘clean up’; and the second character 芜 (wu), is used to describe overgrown/ disorderly/ wild grasslands/ weeds— so the entire name together could be read to mean “clearing disorderliness/ overgrowth of weeds”, which pairs well with the meaning of her given name, and actually adds a deeper meaning to it (i.e. Zheng Wan being one who clears away what is unsightly, to restore beauty and flourishing growth) Another side note is the radical used for the characters in both names are the same 艹 (used for grass/ nature), and this strengthens the imagery/ relationship between the names. I thought this was a neat detail on the author’s part, and I hope you enjoyed this little titbit too!
2 painting eyebrows: Chinese women have always paid great attention to their eyebrows as they believe that this facial feature is linked to their fate. In ancient times, they would shave their eyebrows and draw new ones instead. Initially, Chinese ladies favoured black eyebrows, using expensive conch ink imported from Persia, but in the second and third century AD, green and blue eyebrows became fashionable—at least in royal circles. Fun fact: it’s been recorded that red, yellow, blue, green, purple, black, dark grey have been used as eyebrow colours by the ancient Chinese women.
3 fish-belly white: As white as a fish’s belly.
4 “Zhang Chang Painting His Wife’s Eyebrows”: 张敞画眉; A Chinese idiom used to as a metaphor for a harmonious relationship between couples. It is based on the story of Zhang Chang, an official in the Han Dynasty, who made a practice of painting his wife’s eyebrows every morning to cover up a scar she got from childhood.
5 Mister Cui: Here, she is calling him 崔先生—in modern terminology, 先生is now Mr. (i.e. Mr Cui), but in ancient times, this term was used for males born earlier than you (e.g. father and elder brothers), learned men, teachers, or intellectual men/ men of certain status who have come of age. It is a more affectionate term than 郎君 (langjun, TL: gentleman) that she had used to address him before this.
6 The exact phrase that is being quoted here is from a Qing dynasty poem by Nalan Xingde, titled “Mulan flower: An elegy” (木兰花令·拟古决绝词), it means something like: You casually changed the affection you once had for me, but in turn say that it is only human nature, and that people’s feelings are inherently changeable. The poem is a lover’s lamentation at how easily her lover has broken his commitment to her in spite of the deep affection they used to have.