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Day after day, month after month, until ten months had passed, I kept using my blood to feed Fang Hua. He’d consumed much of my essence until I was at my breaking point. A human life had countless memorable springs and autumns over the course of their life, but these ten months were forever engraved with gratitude into my bones and heart.
I think, I was already getting old…
I could remember when it was a simple thing to scale up the sides of cliffs. At that time, my body was strong and powerful. There wasn’t even a need to climb them. With one push off the ground, I could leap high into the air and fly to the top of the cliff where the best medicines and grasses grew.
But now there was no way for me to reach those cliffs. Ever since the last time I tried and nearly fell off, I never went again. Though I had a safety tie around me to prevent myself from careening off the cliffside, I just had no more strength for climbing. I could only plant a few grasses and seedlings in the courtyard of the house instead. Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t last until the day Fang Hua recovered his human body. In the past, I believed that no amount of flowers or morning dew could compare with my blood, and that I’d always be around…to feed Fang Hua until he was full.
Fang Hua, I’ve nearly given you all my blood. But why won’t you wake up?
A bitter smile rose on my lips. I wiped away my sweat with my sleeves to look up at the sky, where the strong sunlight forced me to shade my eyes. Perhaps I was too tired, but all I could feel was my head turning numb and my feet getting unsteady. The warm sun was welcoming, but I still couldn’t help but feel cold. A sudden unease rose in my heart–a strong feeling that filled up my entire body–as if something had happened without me there. I shut my eyes, resting a hand against my knees as I pushed myself. I plucked off a medicinal plant and tossed it into the basket on my back, leaning against my walking stick as I hurried towards the mountain path…
Panting and gasping for breath, I made it to the yellow earth grave mound where I stood in shock. There was only a broken branch where the Fang Hua wood used to be, but the little Fang Hua that had formed was nowhere to be seen. Ignorant and confused, I couldn’t help but look around as I called out.
“Fang Hua, Fang Hua where are you?”
An endless field of grass surrounded me on all sides, waving gently in the wind. My heart seized up as my breath caught, a hand raising to cover my mouth with an involuntary cry. A raw taste filled my mouth as something seeped past my fingers and stained my palm. When I removed my hand again, all I saw was blood. I couldn’t help but force a smile, carelessly wiping the mess away with a white handkerchief.
The smell of blood filled the air.
Suddenly, something moved in the thick cover of grass. It wasn’t the wind, but the strands had trembled anyways. I was lost for a minute before slowly raising my mouth into a genuine smile. Holding back my rising happiness, I went to brush aside the mess of weeds and branches. There was a pair of bright, limpid eyes looking at me from the grass, measuring me up with his gaze. For a long time, my heart had felt like someone was squeezing it in a vise-like grip. Today, some of that pressure finally relaxed, and now it was only beating in joy. There was deep pain as well, with a sharp and stabbing edge.
It made me recall a scene long in the past, when Fang Hua met the younger me for the first time. Back then, he had looked at me in the same way, except he’d been smiling and at peace. This little fellow seemed to be hiding in the grass, looking both curious and timid.
Though I’d said his name many times before in my heart, this was the first time I was speaking it to him. My words sounded both hoarse and pained. I knelt down, slowly extending my hand towards him. The little fellow seemed to be frightened, and gave me another nervous look. His entire naked form was hidden in the grass like a small and startled animal.
Little one, what made you so uneasy? Did you forget about me? I’ve been guarding you for 10 months, waiting for us to meet. Why are you afraid of me…?
My heart was full of anguish, but I still managed to smile at him. I wiped my face with my hands and dug out something from my basket. “That’s right, I brought some red lotus with me today. This used to be one of your favorites.”
He neither took the the flower nor paid me any attention. My hand hung limply in mid-air. He was looking at me as one would look at a stranger, before pulling out a handful of grass by his side to munch on. I stared at him blankly with a bitter heart, and yet still I smiled. He gave me an odd look as my tears kept flowing without stop.
I hadn’t lost my wits. I really was happy. He was alive: his eyes weren’t closed, he wasn’t silent, he could move around and reject me and think about things. My Fang Hua had finally been reborn, even if he’d forgotten me, to live his next life. I viciously rubbed my face with my sleeves, the tears dampening the bloodstains that had dried on my palms. He suddenly froze in place, tilting his head to sniff the air before walking towards me and sitting at my feet. His persistent gaze peered at my hand with a determined look.
“Do you want to eat?” I asked him in surprise. He didn’t answer.
I squatted down, wiping my hands on my robes before offering him another fistful of flowers. He scooted over, breaths tickling the palm of my hand as he leaned down. Something warm and wet hit me before I realized…he was licking my hand…
Stunned, I wanted to withdraw, but he dragged me back until I tumbled to the ground to stare at him. He looked as me as his eyes formed into smiling crescents, before grabbing my robes and encircling me in a hug. I was motionless. His embrace was very affectionate, and his face rubbed against the bloodstains on my robes as he nuzzled close to croon, “Mother…”
I think my expression at that moment was very complicated. He was acting so out of character with this docile hug. That delicate, pretty face was filled with trust as he gently sniffed out the blood on my body…as if he was smelling some rare and precious flower. How could I forget that my blood flowed in his body as well? He probably loved this flavor because it was familiar. I reached out a hand to touch his head, and his body trembled. Yet he didn’t leave, preferring to looking at me as contentedly as before. I smiled, enjoying how familiar he was with me.
But why did he have to call me his mother?
I went back to my memory of Fang Hua. Back at the house, hadn’t I called him ‘mother’ as well? Were his feelings then the same as mine now? My lips grew stiff as I looked at the little fellow, quietly pressing him close to my chest as I softly stroked his head.
Fang Hua…you should know, I want you to grow up healthy.
Maybe it’s for the best if you forget me and your past life. The Fang Hua Beast was a creature of sentiment. Being affected by sentiment would only hurt you and make you reincarnate again.
“You’re wearing nothing on you body, aren’t you cold?”
He raised his head to look at me, staring and staring with those wide eyes.
I shifted my hand to my waist, taking off my outer robe to wrap around him. He was overcome with joy, blinking as he stuck his hands inside the sleeves. Smart and obedient, he could also imitate actions very well…
A newborn Beast shouldn’t know how to speak. But as soon as this little fellow grew into his form and took his first tottering steps, he could both walk and talk.
He’s very much like you, Fang Hua…
A slow breeze fluttered past the courtyard. I rested against a bamboo bench beneath the eaves, my expression serene and composed. Time had passed very quickly. After ten days, Fang Hua had taken on the appearance of a young child. Right now he could fit in my old clothes, though he still disliked speaking.
All day long, he’d kneel in a pile of grass or play with children’s toys like the diabolo, which he was clutching now in one hand. He squinted as he looked at the sun, looking both serious and sedate. I called out to him softly, but he didn’t answer. My smile faded, and I closed my eyes.
I don’t know if other dying people felt as I did, so leisurely and carefree. Though I was always tired, I spent most of my days reminiscing on the past. As the wind blew past, it lightly caressed my cheeks, making me sleepy. The rustling leaves of the Wutong tree sounded just like the one in my memories…
A dozen or more years ago.
The sad sound of water carried over from the courtyard, along with someone smacking their lips. Beneath the Wutong tree, a girl of twelve to thirteen years old pulled up her trouser legs as she splashed about in a basin filled with white robes, trampling them beyond recognition.
“Shao’er,” a voice called from the house. The girl hastily scooped up an inner robe from the ground and began to scrub it diligently.
“So this is where you were. Why didn’t you answer?” that person walked to the girl’s side, voice softening.
“What is it?”
“You’re washing the clothes?”
“Un.” She lifted her eyes to look at the man, as if to say, If you already know, then why are you asking?
“Did you wash this robe of mine, too?”
“Master, all the clothes in the house were washed by me.”
“But then, why are yours so neat and tidy, while mine…” He looked around, finally pointing at himself. “…look like this?” His robes were full of wrinkles. The girl slowly opened her eyes, still carefully scrubbing the clothes in her hands.
“I don’t know.”
“Aren’t your feet standing on my robes right now?” he reminded her helpfully.
“Why are you using your feet to wash them?” he tilted his head to study the squashed clothing.
She blinked at him, saying in an obvious tone, “Because my hands are already washing some other clothes, so I only have my feet left.” So speaking, she gave him an earnest glance and stomped even harder on the robes underfoot.
His expression flickered briefly. It was a long time before he recovered enough to speak.
“Then…how about I wash the clothes you’re trying to scrub with your feet?”
“How could I let you do that?” she said, refusing on purpose.
“I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”
The girl gave a pout as she reluctantly climbed out of the basin. That immortal-like man bent down in her place, rolling up his sleeves as he got to work.
“Master, you need to use strength when you’re washing.”
“There’s still a spot on the sleeve over there.”
“Over here, this section too.”
In the end, the girl shook her head and looked at the skies, kicking her feet a few times before suddenly stuffing all her clothes into his pile. She grinned secretly as she watched the celestial-like figure wash them.
From then on, both members of the house had clean and neat clothes.
My lips quirked into a smile.
“Mother, wake up.”
Someone nudged me a few times, shaking me from my wonderful dream. I opened my eyes to see the little Fang Hua climbing on the bed, his beautiful face close to mine.
“What was mother smiling about?”
“I dreamed about the past, so it made me very happy.”
He gave me a timid glance before reaching out his little arm to wave a bunch of papers in front of my face. It seemed that he was eager to learn. “What are these?”
I took them in my hands to read through the contents. The paper was very thin, so old that it had begun to turn yellow. Despite this, the words written on the surface were very clear, as ugly as the characters looked: Today master secretly dug out the cabbage plants and replaced them with chrysanthemums so I replaced his calming incense with poop.
I hurriedly flipped to another page, only to read: I found out that master squats to relieve himself too, that’s so weird.
Little Fang Hua’s face drew closer. I gave a cough and hastily cleaned up the papers, my heart and face calm as I spoke. “These were my old calligraphy practice sheets.”
His eyes were shining. “I want to learn, I want to learn”
I nodded with a smile, hugging him on the bed for awhile. My mood was finally better. Taking his hand, I led him to a low couch and sat him down, before spreading out some paper and ink to teach him stroke by stroke. Still, he didn’t have his heart in it.
In the past, Fang Hua had mastered the qin, chess, books and painting. His medical skills were exquisite and his martial arts skills top-notch, but now he had to start all over again. They said a Fang Hua fed by the blood of the person he loved would rebirth his soul and recover his memories, but this little fellow had a completely different personality from my Fang Hua. Perhaps I could only save his life without ever recovering the Fang Hua of the past. I lowered my head to quietly stroke his hand. It was better if he forgot if he could live happily.
It didn’t take long before he grew restless, eyes roving around as his head bobbed back and forth. Finally he tossed aside the brush and went to play in a corner.
If this was the past, I’d never have expected Fang Hua to have this cute and mischievious side to him Sometimes I’d think it wasn’t worth forcing him to learn things. In the future, it’d just be him living in this bamboo house, so I’d rather he have a smooth and happy life. I remembered what Fang Hua told Han Zichuan before.
“Shao’er’s innate talents are excellent, but her personality is indolent and careless. If she wants to learn, I’ll teach her. If she doesn’t, she can do as she pleases. A person only has one life. To live a day happily is a worthy day.”
I used to think he didn’t care for me, but…he thought the same way I did. As long as we could be with the person we wanted to, then our hearts would be content. Such a simple reasoning, such a deep and hidden love, yet I’d overlooked it completely before. Affections in the world took on all sorts of flavors before one understood them. Fang Hua didn’t compete with Han Zichuan. He didn’t know how to spoil a person, nor did he intentionally betray his feelings. When I finally understand, it was too late…and when I thought of that, my heart would suddenly hurt again.
Suddenly, someone grabbed the robes around my knees. A sweaty little Fang Hua asked me, “Mother, are you feeling unwell?” Surprised, I lifted my eyes to peer at him. He was looking at me with his body by my side, an anxious expression on his face.
I laughed in spite of myself and touched his hair, saying lightly, “It’s fine, I’ll be okay after I rest for awhile.” He didn’t think so, but grabbed me tightly with both hands as if I’d disappear if he let go. Silly child…with you here, how could I bear to leave? Nothing could distract me from you.
“What kind of person was father?”
I lowered my head to look at him. His eyes were very big, as bright and clear as spring water. Those pupils had no knowledge of the world’s kindness or cruelty. I was the only thing in his eyes as I sat on the bench, but I’d never realized who he’d looked at with such an intent gaze.
“Mother.” He called out timidly.
“Your father spoke very little and liked to drink my wine.” Originally, I thought this child didn’t understand the differences between men and women, but later on I found out he was just teasing me.
“His medical skills were excellent, but he didn’t like to help others.” And yet he’d gone to the palace for my sake without sending me a single message afterwards. “Your father…”
I looked at his delicate features, that familiar crease in the forehead, and felt my words grow stiff. “He was a temperate man with the grace of an immortal, skilled in both the arts and physical abilities.” And yet he’d hidden his feelings for me for ten whole years, languishing in lovesickness by himself.
I used to think he loved eating red lotuses, but you told me they were bitter and astringent. Only then did I realize he liked more to watch me collect flowers from the pond for him. He enjoyed spending long and quiet evenings by himself, tasting just such a bitterness.
“Mother, did father not treat you well?”
“He did,” I lightly caressed his face, feeling my eyes grow hot. If he hadn’t treated me well, then there wouldn’t be you. He squatted on his feet, little fingers brushing against my eyes.
“Mother, why are you crying…?”
I couldn’t stop my tears from flowing because of the grief in my heart. The crushing depression made my cover my mouth in a coughing fit, wracking my body with pain.
Exhausted, I opened my eyes again.
“I’ll definitely be like father. I’ll learn all sorts of skills and medical arts to heal you,” he sprawled over my knees, gripping my hands tightly as he knelt on the ground with a taut expression.
I smiled, exerting my energy to touch the teardrop-shaped mole by his eye, fingers trembling slightly. He had the exact same face as Fang Hua with that mole. It was a delicate and charming shade of red.
“Child, don’t copy your father.”
Fang Hua, I can’t live for much longer. I just want you to have a good life.
Five months later.
“Mother, these robes are too big. I can’t fit in them.”
Fang Hua resembled a seventeen-year-old youth now, graceful in bearing and gait.
“Nonsense. You can age a year in ten days. There’s no telling if these robes will be too short by tomorrow,” I only smiled and kept my head bowed, sewing more clothes.
“So troublesome,” he suddenly looked at me with a brilliant smile. “Maybe it’s better if I wear nothing at all. It’ll save you from mending and patching all day.”
I was speechless.
He sure was something, saying such words. I didn’t believe for a moment that a big boy like him would dare to walk around naked. If this was the Fang Hua of the past, he’d rather die instead. Laughing softly, I kept my hands busy tying a knot before biting off the ends with my teeth. Then I grabbed another shoe-pad and closed my eyes to catch my breath.
Day after day, I continued to drag out my existence despite my previous loss of blood and vitality. I was now like a flickering flame in the wind, uncertain of when it’d go out. As a result, I prepared all sorts of shoes, waist sashes, and robes in various sizes–for a seventeen-year-old, nineteen-year-old, twenty-year-old… My heart suddenly ached involuntarily. A hand rested atop mine as he knelt on the ground to peer at me.
“Look at how tired you are. Quickly, lie down and rest a bit.”
I really wanted to prepare everything in case he grew up overnight. Counting the days that’d passed by so far, it wouldn’t be long before he became an adult. He looked at me with a quiet smile, rising to drape a robe over his shoulders as he tied it in place. His figure looked just like…
“It’s so late, where are you going?”
The warm lamp light shone on his face as he turned to face me. “I’ve been studying father’s medical books these past few days. I suddenly found one with a formula for something that might cure your illness, so I want to look for the proper plants.”
“Then come back after a few days. Don’t stay away for too long.”
He responded in agreement before happily setting out the door. I watched his retreating form in a daze, thinking that they really did look identical. In reality…where could there be a pill formula to save me? I’d already treated myself multiple times. Only if Fang Hua revived completely, then maybe he could think of a method on his own.
Forget it. It was good for him to have experience. When I was gone, he’d be the only one left, so he should get used to being lonely. Tired, I leaned against the bench and fell into exhaustion. Lately I’d been thinking back to the peaceful days I’d lived with Fang Hua. The memories would always make me smile. Raising my head, I brushed my hands against a robe laid out on the side, feeling a knife in my heart. Only after all this time had passed did I understand Fang Hua’s feelings.
When the young Fang Hua left, it was to disappear for multiple days. A bird flew into the courtyard today, though it wasn’t the parrot from before. I’d occasionally remember events from the past and think they happened a long time ago. The princes, Nongyu, the emperor…these people all seemed very far from me now. My reflection in the mirror looked noticeably weary, the face extremely skinny and ashen white…
Actually, I was still young. It was just my heart that had aged.
I roused myself with effort and used the walls for support as I walked to the courtyard, hearing the sound of the bamboo. Wrapping my robes tightly around myself, I slowly sank onto the bamboo bench. Recently, I’d get sleepy as soon as I lied down. It really seemed that I wouldn’t live for much longer.
I calculated on my fingers that Fang Hua should reach adulthood today. After physically turning eighteen, he’d be no different from mortal humans. As long as he wasn’t hurt by sentiment, he could live for a long time. When I’d met Fang Hua at the dilapidated temple, he must have just come of age as well. I used to wonder why the little Fang Hua couldn’t remember me, but I didn’t think about that anymore. I accepted him calling me mother. As long as the rest of his days were carefree, then it was fine.
After sitting briefly, my body couldn’t hold out anymore, so I lied down on the bench instead. I was falling asleep when my eyes suddenly opened to the sound of rustling leaves in the wind. I felt satisfied and content, as if I had returned to the past.
“Shao’er, it should be seven parts Stomach-Cutting Grass and three parts Five Stone Dispersions.”
“I want to try a four parts to six formula.”
“Then why are you doing half-half right now?”
“Master, you’re smelling the Drunken Dream of Lovemaking right now.”
“Master, does your body feel hot?”
“Do you feel anything strange anywhere on your body? Master, why is your face turning red?”
“Your disciple was wrong. Won’t you say something?”
“If you don’t say anything…Shao’er will get bored.”
“Master, look at this bird. The marketplace said there’s a type of bird called a parrot that knows how to say lots of things. How come you don’t say words for days on end?”
“Shao’er, is it boring staying here with me?”
“…a little bit. Master never answers me or spoils me.”
“Silly, why wouldn’t I spoil you? When you turn fifteen, I’ll give you the very best. I think if I can find you a companion, you won’t be lonely anymore.”
“Master, what do you think of Zichuan?”
“He’s very close and knows things I don’t know.”
“Master…I’m hungry, I want to eat meat.”
“Save some for Zichuan, don’t finish everything by yourself.”
“Zichuan looks more haughty and aristocratic than Master.”
“Zichuan can get twice as many things as Master at the market with the same amount of money.”
“Un, he’s very good. Are you saying he’s better than me?”
“Master, why did you kick the table? It took me so much work to wipe it clean.”
“Shao’er, have you ever thought of…living the rest of your life together with someone you love?”
“I want to live the rest of my life with that person, never parting from them.”
“If you loved him so much, why did you distance yourself back then?”
“Many things you can’t just judge from the surface. Just like here. It used to be a wasteland, but now it’s filled with beauty that few places in the world can compare to. Life is but a moment. Fang Hua will only bloom in a brief instant in one lifetime, and for one person.”
Shao’er, you should know that Fang Hua only opens for a single person.
My lips curved into a smile as I slowly closed my eyes. It was enough to have lived this long…when it was the time to die, I’d be less reluctant to leave. It was a pity that there was no one here to record our story.
Fang Hua, you should know. Our time together in the bamboo forest was the happiest time in my life. I have no regrets…it was Shao’er’s luck to be able to live two lifetimes with you. Everyone says that three lifetimes is enough to bring two lovers together, but I want to live with you in every lifetime. In our next life, let me be the one to look for you, all right?
Wait for me in this bamboo grove…
There was a sudden sound of a kick from outside, though it might have been me hearing things. With a pow, the door suddenly flew open and someone stepped inside. I opened my eyes, dazzled by the pleasantly warm sunshine. I saw a set of white robes that seemed both real and imaginary. That person stood looking at me quietly from the door as time seemed to stop. His face was full of affection, and it was evident that the clothes on his body were a little bit stretched. Such a complicated expression made him look as if he had 10,000 things to say.
Was Fang Hua…finally here to pick me up?
The pear blossoms had bloomed, scattering the air with a rain of flowers. He only said one thing.
Surprised, I raised a sleeve to cover my mouth, helpless as tears flowed down my face.
In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth. For an instance of Shao Hua, a tree full of Fang Hua bloomed.
If this was all a dream, then I would rather keep sleeping and never wake up…
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