Red & Gold: Departures

Winter of 645 C.E., Li Jingyu

Snow in the capital was beautiful. Every snowflake slowly fell elegantly as if dancing slowly towards the ground, where they met with the others. I loved the sensation of each snowflake falling on my skin, but my mother restricted me from staying in the snow for too long, saying I would get ill. She was right, but it wasn’t me who got ill. She died the winter of my sixth birthday. That year, our family didn’t celebrate the winter, nor did we give offerings to our ancestors, and the estate was eerily quiet except for the occasional gossip from the maids.

I sat silently, watching the maids pin the red ornaments on the wall of my quarters, getting ready for the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice was a time of celebration. Every man, woman, and child rushed home to have dinner and participate in festivities. Only around this time of year did my father come out of his room; after my mother’s death, he only came out to go to the Grand Palace. I called for Jiang Li, my personal handmaiden, to grab my ink brush and paper, after she retrieved them, I began to move my brush elegantly, just like the snowflakes.

She sat in her role with grace
She was the image of femininity
She was the embodiment of benevolence
Yet she desired to be free
To soar through the sky
Just like the winter snowflakes

When the maids finally left and I was left in my quarters alone, I felt more isolated than cold. I rolled up the paper and locked it in a tiny box, I locked it away along with my desires.

Winter of 645 C.E, Zhao Qianhua

I despised snow and everything about it. Winter was bland, it was white and pure, nothing to fawn over. It was cold and nothing grew, how depressing is that? People starved and died, and animals decide to skip out on the festivities to sleep because winter is awfully dreadful. The Emperor had declared war on Goguryeo, and the people were taxed heavily. The crops mother and father sowed weren’t growing, and the pressure to pay taxes became increasingly heavy.

My father fell ill and because of the lack of money my family has, he has been getting sicker. My mother tries to hide this from me with an occasional reassuring smile but I saw through it, I heard through it, given that every night I heard the harsh coughs from my father. Father always doted on me, he never allowed me near other village boys, in fear that they would court me. My mother always enjoyed telling me how my father named me; Qian means thousand, Hua means flower, my name meant that a thousand flowers was unparalleled to my beauty. While my father continuously adored me, my mother was stricter in teaching me to be brave and never be too naive when trusting people. I hope I never forgot that.

Spring of 646 C.E Li Jingyu

Growing up, I’ve always knew that I would marry high ranking man, but I never imagined myself in this situation. The Imperial Court already held over 200 concubines and consorts that serve the Emperor Taizong, so why another one? Why me? Jiang Li–who has served me for my entire life–wept when she heard the eunuch who had brought the Imperial order. Through her tears and stuttering, she managed to recant her every memory of us, from the time we accidentally spilled tar on Old Lady Wu, to the time I refused to come out of my room or allow anyone in after my mother’s death, and how she kneeled without break, in front of my door, for three days straight. We spent hours crying and reminiscing about the fond memories we shared. I do not know when we will be able to meet again; I can only hope it would be soon.

Spring of 646 C.E Zhao Qianhua

Death is inevitable, it’s horrible, and I can go as far as calling it evil, for taking my father away, for taking my mother’s husband away, and for taking the only laughter in our little shack in the mountains. My mother was headstrong, like a bull, but that night, she fell apart before my eyes. Her mumbles for my father to wake up broke me. After father died, my mother and I had nothing: no money, and no crops, but I had heard from the neighboring girls that the palace was looking for maids. My mother begged me not to go, but I had to, I had to step up and take care of her. And nothing anyone said or did would change my mind.

In dead silent night, with the moonlight kissing my face, I had tucked my mother in, and left her a note telling her not to worry, and that I will be sending money back so she could live comfortably. I can only hope she forgives me for leaving.