Beneath the scorching sun, the small village of Xiang Li was full of life.
The bustle of the village was almost heard from the next village, every single person living in Xiang Li seemed to be so happy doing their everyday life.
Inside a small worn out cottage with roof almost sunken and had holes that made the sunlight glaring through, a young girl at the age of 13, was sitting on a chair surrounded by girls having the same age as her, laughing and talking and one of the girls stared at Jiao Yu for a long time, the girl named Cai Lin couldn't take it any longer and asked, "I heard from my mother that your father will be coming back soon. I wonder what stories he will tell us when he comes back."The other girls chorused after her, saying that they are also curious.
"I don't know but father said that he would be back this month on my birthday and also the day of the full moon." When Jiao Yu's words just landed, silence took over the bustle but recovered as the girls started to squeal in excitement and happiness as they keep on giving best wishes to her.
Jiao Yu knew how much her friend's love her father's stories and she too could not help but be fascinated by the stories her father told them about the places he'd been in Ding capital.
And now that he's about to come back after 3 years of working as a servant in a noble's residence, she could not help but be filled with excitement as she thought of her father.
Jiao Yu's father had been working outside the village, going back and forth from Xiang Li to Ding capital and work there for 3 to 5 years regularly and he could only come back home after some period. Though he was always away, her father would always find some way to spend some time with her and her friends, telling stories or sometimes cook for them when he could come home.
And Jiao Yu could not really feel the loneliness as everyone in the village took care of her when her father is away.
Being daughter of a servant was hard and full of trials, yet the people in the village helped her a lot in times of hardship which she was greatly grateful of, but because of what she had heard and known from what her father told her from his stories, she could not keep herself to feel a little bit ambitious.
She was desperate to learn what the other girls in some cities had been learning and with the help of the village head, she learned to read and write added with the fact that she was born exceptionally beautiful and she slowly gathered the attention she wanted, like bees attracted to honey.
Until now, she had been living the way she had been living and contented with it but the day before her birthday and before Jiao Yu's father's arrival an occurrence happened, the village's benefactor came to the village for some matters which they told her that greatly involved her father.
She was curious to know what matter it was that needed her father who has not stayed in the village for long that the village's benefactor would seek him, and yet, the villagers only gave her two things to do tomorrow.
First, she needed to wear the dress her aunt will give,
And second, She needed to go to the top of the mountain before the first of the five-night watch (19:00-21:00) to meet her father.
In the morning Jiao Yu started the day with cleaning their entire house, feeding the poultry, watering the vegetables, chopping woods and cooking her father's favorite dish. Though she doesn't know what time her father would come today, she couldn't keep herself from doing things in advance.
And all the villagers seem to do the same thing as her, as they come running back and forth doing things and when she tries to lend a hand everyone would turn her down, which was strange but because she, also has things to do, she didn't keep it in mind, which was a big mistake.
When night time slowly approaches her aunt went to her to give her the red dress she made for Jiao Yu, she wanted to ask why and what is the importance of her wearing this dress but her aunt just told her that it was something they had to do for the happiness of everyone in the village. Jiao Yu thought that her aunt's words were just her saying that tonight would be a happy occasion for everyone since her father is coming, the benefactor is also here and because it was also her birthday, so she went along with it.
And on the way to the top of the mountain, Jiao Yu could not hope but feel a little bit skeptical as she walks alone on the bumpy road with a red muslin veil, a red dress, an ornament on her hair and a red shoes. Just like the bride she dreamed to be.
Jiao Yu saw lights coming from the torches and silhouettes of people from a distance and felt excited as she tried to fasten her pace to reach them but she could not keep herself from musing as she asked herself, Why do we need to celebrate this day here at the top of the mountain? Why do I have to wear all red just for tonight while everyone is wearing their normal wear? And why in the heavens does this place looks like a wedding? But for who?
Jiao Yu's mind reeled back to the way she's dressed and to the way everyone acted this morning. She thought this was not happening to her and the possibilities of her being married off were close to nothing and yet here she was, standing still far enough for her to see and hear their hushed voices and waiting for silhouettes from a distance.
Cold sweats started to fall from her cheeks and her dress was already wet since the time she started her journey to the top of the mountain.
And before she knew it her tears slowly flowed from her eyes blurring them and her body moved faster than what her mind could think of what she should do.
Then she ran away.
The wind during summer night was usually nice to feel, but at this moment because of the tense atmosphere building up, the night's air became even thicker and unsightly to breathe.
Jiao Yu kept her breath steady as she ran while holding her skirt up to her waist, she had long ago thrown the veil that was blocking her sight and left the red shoes on the way to not burden her from running fast. The ornaments on Jiao Yu's head was also left behind except the small knife she usually tucks in inside her sleeves which she uses daily.
Jiao Yu secretly scolded herself for not bringing her other small daggers as she treats them useless before, yet Jiao Yu could not help but wish she had not treated them useless now that she needed them more than anything else.