Winter of 649 C.E Li Jingyu
Everything has been meticulously planned. We are going to leave through the Blue Lotus Garden during the night of the Winter Solstice. Qianhua and I have packed the minimal amount of necessities. clothing, food, money and water, so that if we are sighted we can run faster. But getting caught is not an option. I am going to get out of this place and live. Live…
Winter of 647 C.E Zhao Qianhua
The maids are bustling around preparing for the long awaited Winter Solstice. Today was the day we were going to leave. I feel anxious and scared. What if they catch us? How will they punish us? But I can’t think of these things, I must be optimistic, and I must be strong willed. Jingyu and I will get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we do.
Day of the Escape
Jingyu sat impatiently at her vanity, staring at her own reflection, waiting for her maid to finish doing her hair.
“Nana, how long is this going to take?” Jingyu asked with a hint of annoyance
“Miss, if you continue to fidget like that, I won’t finish until winter ends,” the maid shook her head, wondering why her lady was in such a hurry. Her lady was probably worried about her position in court, especially after the Empress took over after the Emperor fell ill.
Jingyu, of course, was excited about her plans to leave the palace. Her and Qianhua had spent countless nights staying up devising a foolproof plan. In her 19 years of existence, never had Jingyu felt such joy. Smiling a goofy smile, Jingyu’s smile caused her maid to stare at her with a confused look. Her lady was surely going insane. Outside of Concubine Jingyu’s doors was a petite maid, not older than 15, she held a small platter with a porcelain teacup, adorned with paintings of a small bird flying towards the heavens. Slowly, the petite girl knocked on the panels of the doors and waited for permission to enter.
“Who is it?” Jingyu was not expecting visitors nor did she want to greet any.
“Consort Li. Th-This servant was asked to bring this fertility brew to you,” the maid stuttered slightly out of fear of being discovered. But Jingyu did not notice it, being too occupied with her thoughts of escape. She allowed the shaky maid in. Holding her breath, the maid set down the platter on the desk and quickly retreated back to her master who ordered her to send the brew. The Emperor must have ordered her to drink this, thought Jingyu. Without much thought, she ordered her maid to bring the cup over and drank it.
After Jingyu told her maid to leave, she immediately called Qianhua to her room. Both of them sat in her room and whispered the plan several times, just in case the other forgot, but every word they said were in sync. When the sun finally set, they both grabbed the small bags they had packed the night before from under the bed. As quietly as their feet would take them, they snuck past the maids and guards. The moon illuminated their path as if it was their fate to leave. When they finally reached the back gate, both of them looked at the view beyond the gate.
“This isn’t a dream is it?” Qianhua laughed in response to the ridiculous question. Jingyu held tighter onto her bag, stepping forward to open the gate but before she could take a step outside, her entire body suddenly felt weak and she started vigorously coughing and throwing up blood. Jingyu’s cough echoed throughout the silent garden. Her eyes slowly closed as she fell and the last thing she saw was the sight of the city outside the gate. Qianhua dropped to her knee, shaking the girl on the floor, who looked as if she was barely breathing.
“Jingyu! Jingyu!” The urgent voice of Qianhua was drowned out by the sound of the approaching Royal guards. Qianhua slowly looked up, only to be met with a pair of eyes staring directing at her: the Empress, the most important woman in Tang.
“What is your name?” The Empress slowly circled them, looking between her and the half dead girl on the ground. Qianhua kept quiet.
“I said what is your name!”
Once again, Qianhua did not answer.
“Throw her in the prison! Insolent mutt!” The guards grabbed Qianhua while she screamed to be let go. She watched as the guards grabbed Jingyu and carried her in the opposite direction. Both of them were dragged further and further away from the outside world, and their freedom.
7 months later
The Royal Palace was quiet. Not a single breath could be heard. The death of the Emperor and a Royal Consort shocked everyone. Jingyu was kept in a hidden room in the palace where she was fed poison everyday until she finally passed away peacefully in her sleep. The maids mourned and cried for their lady, but no one remembered the arrogant maid who apparently killed Royal Consort Li. Qianhua was kept in prison until they decided to execute her for poisoning Royal Consort Li.
When she heard the news that Jingyu was dead, she knew that it was the Empress who had poisoned the Emperor’s favorite concubine. The Empress would send someone to torture Qianhua, to force her take the fall for murdering Royal Consort Li, but when she refused, the Empress had her killed nonetheless.
As she was escorted towards the execution room, Qianhua saw a bird flying alongside her. The small bird was yellow. No, it was gold. The bird kept chirping as if they were talking. The bird reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t figure out who, Qianhua smiled as she reached the execution room when she finally realized who the bird reminded her of.
1 year later
Every winter the maids gathered to see the infamous red bird and gold bird. The birds always put on a performance in the Blue Lotus Garden just by the back gate. They flew an elegant dance and chirped a beautiful dance. The maids stared at them as they flew around for awhile until finally when the sun set they both flew higher and higher towards the sky, until no one could see the birds or hear their chirps. How I wished I was as free as those birds, thought each and every maid.