After Becoming the Hero's Ex-fiancée - Chapter 3
Awakening from a Dream (3)
“Father, since His Majesty has punished the Zheng family, how can Wanwan, as a daughter of the Zheng family, avoid it?”
The swirling dust stung Zheng Zhai’s eyes painfully.
“Luodai, hurry help your lady get up!”
His precious daughter belonged in jade halls and golden palaces; how can she be allowed to be in such a nasty, disgraceful state?
“Father, don’t be upset.” Zheng Wan turned her head and gave him a smile. “When we’ve finished kneeling, Wanwan will return home together with Father.”
Zheng Zhai’s eyes suddenly reddened and his throat swelled with emotion. It took him a while before he could respond, shaking his head.
The sentence was left unfinished; he swallowed his words and gazed straight ahead. A mix of resentment and complex emotions surfaced simultaneously on his gaunt face.
Zheng Wan subconsciously followed his gaze and looked straight ahead.
On the other side of the large, red-lacquered Anju Gate— amidst the swords, spears and halberds— was a gentleman holding an ink-and-wash painted umbrella; following the long jade-stepped walkway, through the clouds of snow, he slowly made his way towards them.
Inky black hair, ebony eyes, wide robes and broad sleeves; he almost didn’t seem like a real person.
The imperial guards dropped their noble heads one after another; Zheng Wan gazed steadily at the approaching figure— he was close enough that she could see the smoke and fog pattern coiling round the umbrella’s handle; close enough to see that the gentleman was wearing…
While everyone else was wrapped in thick fur and heavily clothed, he wore only a thin, unlined robe; the material couldn’t be discerned, but one could tell that the robes were as thin as a cicada’s wings, light as floating smoke. Light filtered through the snowy skies upon the robes, creating a soft, shimmering effect. In the dim light, she could only see a chin that seemed as if it were chiselled out of jade, and a beautiful jawline.
“You are Zheng Wan?”
The gentleman’s voice was very pleasant on the ears, like a breeze brushing through a bamboo forest, or the jade chimes of a babbling stream.
“And who are you?”
Zheng Wan opened her watery eyes and looked upwards. Before she could see clearly, she felt as if her eyes were being stung by needles, and tears started to fall.
Zheng Zhai forced himself up and shielded his daughter behind him.
“Cui Wang! Everything that has happened has nothing to do with my girl. If you have any resentment, just come at this old man alone.”
“Resentment?” The voice seemed puzzled, but even that emotion was extremely light— exactly in line with his cold and icy demeanour. “Well.”
The shallow sigh was caught in the wind and dispersed into the blanket of snow almost at once.
Zheng Wan reflexively squinted her eyes, but in a flash, the cold gentleman had already walked far ahead. From a distance, she could only see the corner of his robes blowing gently in the wind. With his long black hair draped loosely down his back, the image of his receding figure made him look like an immortal who had been banished to the human realm.
“Father, that’s Cui Wang?”
At the mention of Cui Wang, Zheng Wan subconsciously thought of the young youth who had not yet grown up.
A figure in green robes that were greyed with layers of dust; his face was blurry in her memories, but she could still remember those eyes— burning with hatred and contempt, crystal clear and beautiful—like the black onyx marbles that she loved to play with.
If she remembered correctly, the little beggar who dared to stop her carriage all those years ago, and with just a shabby jade pendant in hand, proposed to the daughter of the esteemed Zheng family of Xingyang, was called: Cui Wang.
She also rewarded him with a slap on the spot and said, “Wishful thinking.”
Zheng Zhai nodded, confirming her guess.
“That child Cui Wang has now been bestowed the title of State Preceptor by His Majesty, and is the esteemed guest of the Liang court.”
Zheng Wan opened her mouth, but closed it again.
The angina that had just eased not too long ago, recurred with an intensity like never before. She clutched her chest and had only time to call out, “Father, it hurts.”
She crumpled softly to the ground.
Zheng Zhai let out a cry and leaped towards her in a panic, scrambling to catch her in his arms. However, as both his knees have long since lost sensation from kneeling for so long, he also fell straight down.
In the chaos, Luodai screamed:
“My lady! My lady! My lord! Someone, help…!”
Zheng Zhai waved his hand, “Don’t mind me, go get the imperial physician, hurry!”
The imperial guards also rushed over— seeing Lady Zheng’s ashen face and shallow breath, they rushed off immediately on horseback to fetch the imperial physician. In less than half the time taken to drink a cup of tea7, they came flying back with the imperial physician.
By this time, Zheng Wan had already been settled into the carriage. The imperial physician lifted her eyelids, examined her tongue, closely examined her pulse, before forming his hands in a salute, and said with a troubled expression:
“The young lady bears no signs of illness.”
“How can that be?! My child had cried out in pain.”
“This old man is incompetent, and unable to detect what illness ails the young lady. May I suggest that she returns to the residence for some rest, and I will come by again tomorrow?”
Zheng Zhai looked thoughtfully at the imperial physician who was sweating profusely. With a wave, he tasked Luodai to send his daughter back to the Zheng’s residence along with the imperial physician.
That night, the storm raged on; heavy snow bent the pine trees in the courtyard. With the sound of the wind and rain in the background, Zheng Wan had nightmares all night.
She dreamt that she was living in a book; it was titled 《Sword Sovereign》.
The name of the Sword Sovereign was also, coincidentally, Cui Wang.
Cui Wang also had a fiancée: the sole descendent of the Zheng family of Xingyang, Zheng Wan—whose courtesy name8 was Qingwu.
6 Susha Danyi: 素纱单衣; Danyi are thin, unlined gowns. In 1972 in the tomb of Xin Zhui, marquise of Dai, who was buried in around 148 BC during the Han dynasty, three danyi were unearthed. The most exquisite is the susha danyi (literally, plain gauze gown “Thin as a cicada’s wing, light as floating smoke”, this Chinese silk robe was especially valuable because it was 128cm long, with 190cm sleeves, but weighed a mere 49 grams and could even fit in a matchbox when folded. It was hailed by archaeologists as a milestone in the history of Western Han textiles. Experts tried to replicate the Susha Danyi using modern technology, but after countless failed attempts, the replica could only weigh a minimum of 49.5 grams, which took 13 years to produce.
7 Time taken to drink tea: One of the ancient Chinese measurements of time. Tea-drinking was so ingrained in the Chinese culture that it became a measure of time. The ‘art’ of drinking tea was a slow, deliberate process, and one is meant to sip it slowly and savour the flavour— the time it takes to drink a cup of tea is considered to be around 10 minutes, so the guards returned with the imperial physician in under 5 minutes
8 Courtesy name: 字 zi; The “courtesy name”, a name to be used later in life in place of one’s given name, as a symbol of adulthood/ marriage. The practice is no longer common in modern Chinese society.