Red & Gold: Freedom

Summer of 648 C.E., Li Jingyu

Fate is unpredictable. There was this legend Jiang Li once told me, that those who you are fated to encounter will share an invisible red knot around your ankles, but what type of knot do I share with those I have parted with? Those who I have forgotten? Those who have forgotten me? I haven’t seen Jiang Li in two years, but we both exchange letters, she always asks if I were well taken care of by my newly assigned maids, and I write back asking about my father and his declining health.

My father rarely visited. If he ever did, it was because of the Emperor’s Imperial order. The short exchange of words we shared can be only described as awkward and redundant. The amount of times my father has asked if I had eaten or if I was living comfortably was beyond me. I will never know if my father truly misses me, or if I have just become like an old painting, forgotten and discarded.

I do know that fate has pulled me along with its bright ruby string to a peculiar girl. My maids would always complain about a particular maid, who was always picking fights with others. In an effort to stick up for my maids, I went to confront this scourge, but I was met with opposition and hostility. I passed this off by assuming she was an ill-mannered girl raised by wolves, but I was mistaken. Several weeks after I had my less than favourable encounter with Qianhua, I caught her stealing rations from the kitchen. I wondered why she needed so much food, so I followed her. What I saw shocked me; she had brought the food to a group of vagrant children. Ever since that day, I can’t help but hold respect for her. I confronted her about her stealing from the kitchen, and threatened that if she didn’t bring me along that I would tell the head maid about her misdoings. She reluctantly agreed, and slowly I try to befriend her, and her with me, despite Qianhua taking a while to warm up to me.  

As the years have passed, the Emperor has taken a liking to me, visiting me every night either to talk about politics or Xiangqi. Of course, the other concubines and Empress are jealous. The other women in court try to have accidents pinned on me, or worse, have me killed. It’s a great honor to be favored by the Son of Heaven, an honor I rather not of been graced with. The Emperor is benevolent, but he is older than my father. The wrinkles on his forehead shape a silhouette of a dragon; maybe that’s why he’s called the Dragon Emperor. I know for sure the women of the court will never accept my presence.

Summer of 648 C.E Zhao Qianhua

There’s this cliff that I used to play at with the other village children. Throughout the summer nights, the stars were especially bright contrasting with the milky sky and all the villagers would gather to bathe in the moonlight, allowing the white light to kiss their skin. The women laid down and chatted about the latest village gossip, the men bragged about how much fish they caught in the Yellow River, and the children made the nastiest and biggest mud pies. There was also this huge gingko tree that protected us from the harsh sunlight, the elders would treat the tree like a god calling it the guardian that protected us from the rest of the world. In our little village with little to no laughter, it was the happiest and most treasured place, where raises in taxes, famine, and war didn’t matter. I guess that’s why we called it the edge of the world. But this summer, the villagers were not greeted by the luminous light of the sky; instead, there was lifeless woman hung from the tree, a widow who missed her husband and waited too long for her unfilial daughter to return. The once sacred place has been soaked in tears from a lonely woman who wished nothing but to see her husband and daughter. I hate it… hate myself, no longer could I blame death for taking those who I love. The only person I could blame now was myself, my own selfishness and ignorance caused my mother the greatest pain.

The women residing in the imperial court are nasty and big-mouthed. They will compliment your hair, but when you turn around, they will wish you dead. In my eyes, they are just mindless puppets. At least that’s what I thought, until I met Li Jingyu. It took time for me to adjust to her barging into my life, but she slowly has become the sole reason I ever smile. While her smile is not always genuine, I know that her happiness is trapped in this palace.

Fall of 649 C.E Li Jingyu

Freedom. A word that so distant will finally going be my reality. I often talk about how badly I want to leave behind this life, a life where I sit perfectly still in my chambers waiting for the Emperor to visit me. Last night, Qianhua burst through my doors, panting, rambling about leaving. After she calmed down, she began talking about her plan for us to leave the palace, and live somewhere secluded. Qianhua and I are going to leave this horrible place. I am finally going to be free.

Fall of 649 C.E Zhao Qianhua

She smiled a sincere smile when I told her we were going to leave. She cried and laughed at the same time, and seeing her cry, I cried too. We will finally travel beyond the red walls of the palace.