Dearest readers, I'm still editing the final chapter of The Sun's Dark Love. But, to satisfy some of your curiosities, I thought I would share the first chapter of Princess Yu An's story - "The Princess Who Cannot Marry". While planning the entire story arc of Princess Yu An, I actually got very immersed in her world and started to pen down the first few chapters. I think Yu An's story differs from Little Moon's Matchmaking Mission and The Sun's Dark Love because the previous two stories have very clear one true pairings and have two equal main characters, but Yu An's story is entirely hers. I always try to avoid writing about characters who are too perfect (though clearly since the romantic genre is all about escapism, we get dream-like fantasies), but I don't want to write about people who can do everything and always get things right. But, Yu An is a girl who is beautiful, intelligent, talented in music and also a princess. Gosh, I almost want to give her a defect, any defect, to make her seem real. But, strangely, she is so real to me because she is the lovechild of my first characters, Yue and Hsiao, and I hope you will enjoy her journey as she meets the most interesting characters, the most intriguing men, loses her heart along the way, and finds herself.
Chapter 1: Love & Loss
Shen Suan, the mysterious oracle of the lands, boldly pronounced after the birth of the first daughter of the Great Yan Emperor, Royal Princess Yu An, that if she did not marry by her nineteenth birthday, she would never marry...
- Recorded in the Grand Royal Annals of the Yan Kingdom, Year 2088
The Golden Peony Mansion was the grandest and most prestigious brothel in the Capital of the Yan Kingdom. To call it a brothel would also be too demeaning and simplistic, for it could more accurately be called an arts house, where the most beautiful and talented display their skills, and allow you to buy a dream, a most intoxicating dream for a night.
Tonight in the Golden Peony Mansion, it would not be an exaggeration to state that most of the gallant young men in the Capital were congregated here to watch the unveiling of the much rumored mythical great courtesan of the east. Yin Hua (吟花 - song of the flower), a legendary courtesan from the Wu Kingdom, known for its beautiful exotic women with their extraordinary musical talents, was said to be one of the best guzheng* players, second only to the Royal Princess of Wu herself.
Why would such a great courtesan travel to the Yan Kingdom? Was it for untold riches? Or was it, as rumoured, to find herself a true soulmate in music?
The grand hall of the Golden Peony Mansion fell silent - no more crunching of peanuts, no more boisterous cheering or jeering with the clinking of goblets and the sound of people finishing up vats and vats of alcohol. An absolutely ravishing vision in white appeared on stage, her steps soft and sultry, her face half-veiled with white silk, her eyes impossibly captivating.
The throng of men inwardly gasped as she sat down before her guzheng, seemed to smile below the white silk and started to play. It was a wild cascade of music, so passionate, so bold, like horses dashing through a desert storm - one felt one's senses being overwhelmed, then slowly, but inevitably sinking into the quicksand of her rhythm.
But, there was no peak to the music, her fingers seemed to slow down on the guzheng, as if disappointingly the horses running through the desert, could not find its proper homeland. It was all a mirage. When, suddenly, like a clash of thunder, a bolt straight through the heart, there was a sound of a rivaling guzheng from across the hall.
The heads turned away from the white goddess to a figure at the end of the hall. A young gentleman in simple light silverish-grey robes, seemingly unperturbed by the crowd, as his fingers entwined through the intercrossing tapestry of music from both Yin Hua and his guzheng. It was mesmerising - Yin Hua's horses became captive instead of the captor, as the world changed around them - no more the desert, there were the cascading of waterfalls, the deep bellows of mountains, the clarity of spring water...
The young gentleman's notes skipped tantalizingly deeper into a forest that Yin Hua had to follow - until she found herself in the middle of a clearing with peach blossom trees all in the thick of bloom. The duet reached the crescendo and Yin Hua found herself watching the peach blossom flowers fall, one by one, until they all rained upon her and she was swimming now in a sea of flowers.
The music stopped. Everyone held their breath as both players looked up. Yin Hua, her cheeks flushed, her eyes glittering. There was a stir when they saw the young gentleman's face - a heart-shaped face, like a young moon, luminescent, delicate, elegant.
The young gentleman was about to break into a smile when the main doors of the grand hall fell open. A troop of royal guards entered in steadily with the mistress of the mansion coquettishly batting her eyelids at the leader of the troop.
The crowd started to break into whispers - why it was the young Captain Hu Zi, son of the head of the Emperor's private elite army, Hu Jun. Captain Hu Zi was infamously reticent, cold and strict - was even the legendary stone moved by the great courtesan of the east? Some of the men inwardly groaned, with all these extraordinary competition, what chance would they stand in winning the hand of the beauty?
During the commotion, the young gentleman had quickly made her escape. Yes, her escape. Yu An had failed to learn any of her father's great martial arts skills, but she did managed to learn one skill very successfully - qing gong (light martial arts) - to escape!
Yu An had spent many nights playing in the Golden Peony Mansion so she was familiar with its internal structure. She quickly ran off to the side tower of the Golden Peony Mansion to try and escape from the less known side exit. But, she was startled to find that when she was about to jump out of the window of the side tower - there he was.
Hu Zi, annoyingly, already at the ground of the side exit. How could he? How fast could he be?
"Princess," Yu An heard Hu Zi's familiar call. They had done this dance a hundred times, she escaping and he calling her back. Even, after Hu Zi immersed himself in the royal army and rose up to the ranks to become a Captain, he always seemed to find the time to catch her back. There were truly not enough enemies for the Yan Kingdom's army!
"Don't catch me back yet. I have not even gotten a chance to talk to Yin Hua!" Yu An cried back.
But, there was something in Hu Zi's face that caused Yu An's voice to hesitate, something strong and hard, and almost dark. It was a foreign face.
Hu Zi's eyes did not turn away and he looked straight at Yu An, "Princess, the Grand Yan Emperor has just passed away."
"Grandfather?" Yu An's body froze in shock. And, during that shock, she accidentally tripped and she felt herself falling...
She closed her eyes but before her body hit the ground, she felt Hu Zi catch her in his arms. She hid her face in his chest. She did not see anything anymore as she heard Hu Zi coldly order the soldiers back as he carried her to the carriage.
So, Yu An did not see the startled looks on some of Hu Zi's new soldiers' faces. For they had never seen their cold Captain ever been so gentle to anyone.
When Yu An returned to the Royal Palace, she quickly changed into proper royal garments and hastily made her way to the Grand Yan Empress' palace. As the "Yu" from Yu An's name came from the Grand Yan Empress, Yu An was always especially close to her beautiful and elegant grandmother.
The Grand Yan Empress' maids immediately brought Yu An to the Grand Yan Empress' private bedchambers the moment she arrived. When Yu An entered the Grand Yan' Empress' bedchambers, she was immediately struck by the strong smell of incense. Quietly, she stepped in and found her grandmother sitting thoughtfully by the windows, as if ruminating on secret messages in the sky.
"Princess Yu An pays her greetings to the Grand Yan Empress," Yu An bowed down before her grandmother.
"Quick rise," The Grand Yan Empress softly ordered, her eyes looking kindly onto Yu An.
As Yu An rose, her sensitive ears were pricked and she thought she heard the melodious playing of a flute. The style was similar to her father, but yet distinctly different - as if from a deeper well of stored up emotions, of a strong repression that she was only starting to hear its unravelling.
"Yu An, Yu An," The Grand Yan Empress repeated her name as she held Yu An's hands in her own, "I once told Yue that she should not have named you after An Chi and me, two women who loved deeply but could not be with the man we love."
The Grand Yan Empress gave a light mocking smile, "And, even the man I chose, still left me first in the end."
As if in a spell, the Grand Yan Empress suddenly stood up and started to sway. Yu An watched on with growing wonder as she realised her grandmother was... dancing. Yu An wasn't sure if her grandmother could also hear the very soft, almost indiscernible, flute playing, but somehow her grandmother was swaying in time with the invisible beats of a music that matched her soul.
"Yu An, very long ago, I had a twin sister. She too bore a son to your grandfather. He was your father's older brother... he became a monk and travels freely between all the kingdoms. I came from a desert tribe in the farther ends of the Yan Kingdom... we had nothing, but we were known for our beauty and dance. My sister and I... we were the best dancers of the tribe. We dreamt of travelling throughout all the kingdoms in a dancing troupe... one night, we rescued a wanderer... a handsome wanderer. Both of us fell for him, but even before we could ascertain if this was love, we received a royal edict from the Kingdom, demanding for a tribute from our tribe. A female tribute to be the future consort of the Emperor. This was not really a surprise... the Yan Kingdom asked for a tribute every year, but the surprise was that the tribe chose my sister and I. I chose to go to the Royal Palace... to give my younger sister a choice. But, funnily enough... funnily enough, she chose to come to the Palace a year later."
Grandmother fell silent then and her steps slowed down... as if she was tired, bogged down by time and its heaviness. She sat down and Yu An poured her a cup of tea.
"But, the funniest thing of all, Yu An," Grandmother said as she appeared to survey her destiny in the cup's tea leaves, "When I asked her why she came to the Royal Palace, she said, 'Because he loved you instead.'"
The invisible flute music faded off then. Yu An was struck by its finishing note - a chord that brought up a memory, her father telling her that it was his shi fu (teacher) that taught him martial arts and how to play the flute, the shi fu that was the Grand Yan Empress' Shi Xiong (sworn brother)......
Love, Yu An thought, this love that grandmother talks of, that her mother believes in, is so unfathomable.
*A type of chinese stringed musical instrument.
Comments: In ancient china, it was common for the girls to marry from twelve upwards. Most princesses will probably marry by fifteen (and that may even be late). But, that would make for a very unpalatable love story. So, I have modified it for modern tastes - but I generally think that the women mature faster in the ancient china setting so when I think of someone who is sixteen in ancient china, I feel that their mentality may be closer to eighteen.
Little Moon's Matchmaking Mission!
The Sun's Dark Love