He was sitting next to his aunt on the matted floor rather tensely, his back straight and his shoulders squared. He was dressed in a plain cross-collared tunic with long sleeves, a sword resting next to him. The first thing that came to mind when I saw him was that there was nothing extraordinary about him. He wasn’t beautiful, but average. His black hair was a normal length, neither too long nor too short. His physique didn’t seem lanky, but it wasn’t built like an ox either. His skin wasn’t pale, but tan from the sun. Nothing about him stood out or made him memorable.
A slight red colored his cheeks, which I found oddly surprising. His eyes caught mine and I was instantly entrapped within the unfathomable black orbs, which seemed warm and cold at the same time. I blinked back and quickly tipped my head down, my neck and cheeks flushing with embarrassment at being caught staring. He was plain in every sense and form, at least physically and aesthetically.
“I hope the travel wasn’t too taxing,” Mother said as she seated herself across from Lady Ju. Mother’s smile was radiant when she glanced over at me, a message in her eyes before she turned back to Lady Ju to continue their small chat. Pour the tea.
I stooped down next to the low table and as gracefully as I could, grabbed the kettle of tea. When or how Mother had time to make tea—or maybe Boqin?—was beyond me as I poured the hot liquid into the cups that were prepared. Steam curled around each cup and I attempted to be as poised as possible in such a small task. A million years seemed to pass by the time I finally poured the right amount of cups. I swiftly placed the kettle back down and scooted back a little, keeping my position reserved and my gaze downcast.
“The wedding will be in one week,” Lady Ju announced unreservedly. She briskly sipped her tea and glanced around at our faces. “Weimin has finally returned from battle three days ago and so I think it’s only appropriate that the wedding is held as soon as possible.”
So his name is Weimin, I wondered thoughtfully, not at all surprised that I was to marry so soon. Even though I had been engaged to him for a year, no one had enclosed his name to me. I knew that his family name was Zhuang, but that was about it. Zhuang Weimin.
“Yes, yes, that’s wonderful,” Mother gushed. Boqin stiffened and kept casting worried looks at me, which I ignored since I was trying to focus on not catching Lady Ju’s analytical gaze.
Father clapped his hands together. “That’s great news! I’m glad that you’re back from the war. How were the battles?”
“The battles were the usual.” His voice was surprisingly strong and cheerful, though there was a hint of steel in his eyes and tone. He strained a smile on his face, but it was too forced. “Blood, soldiers, sweat—typical battle scene. The goal of the campaign that I was enlisted in was to secure a fort in Sui. It took a year and a half, but we succeeded in our initial goal.”
“Do you carry your sword everywhere with you?” Boqin interjected rather snidely.
There was a pause before he answered. “I’ve become accustomed to always having it with me.”
“Are you good with it?”
Average in everything, it seemed. However, whether or not he was being humble was uncertain. Before Boqin could question him further, Mother clapped her hands together and shot a warning glare at him. “I’m just glad that you’re back in one piece.”
“Thank you, Mother,” my betrothed said politely.
Mother beamed at his words and bobbed her head. “Lihua has been so excited to finally meet you and marry. Isn’t that right, Lihua?”
“Yes, Mother,” I murmured.
“Why don’t the two of you take a stroll around the barn?” Mother continued rather boldly, catching even Lady Ju off guard. “Lihua, show him around our property; I’m sure this will be one of the few times he will see it before taking you back to his village.”