After Cai Lung’s father passed away, his mother informed him that his uncle would be coming to get him. “It’s for the best,” she said softly.
“You can have the same tutoring opportunities as the other kids.”
After eloping with a Nuli (slave), her family disowned her. Her Ge Ge (elder brother) severed all ties from her. Despite the pain, she shared her family’s long-standing association with the emperor’s army since the Ming dynasty with Cai Lung. Her Ge Ge, the person Cai Lung is now meant to reside with, has obtained the rank of general in the imperial military forces. As they ate breakfast together the previous day, a palpable tension filled the air. He could sense that something was amiss and decided to inquire. At that moment, she ceased her meal and rested her hands on the small Zhou (table) they shared.
She directed her gaze to him and uttered, “Beginning tomorrow, you are no longer my Er tzh (son). You are now Zhong Cai Lung, the offspring of my Ge Ge Zhong Lang Cai and his outside mistress Ah- Mei.“He was rendered speechless for a few moments, staring blankly at her in disbelief. When he finally found his voice, he uttered, “Mu Quin, no...,” realizing that she had written to her elder brother regarding their circumstances. He never expected that the response would be to send him away.
“Lui Cai Lung, listen. Life in the capital won’t be easy for you, that I understand. You will be perceived as the by-product of a mistress. But it is still a better option than here. There, you will be able to construct a future. You can marry into a reputable family if you are referred to as Zhong.” Cai Lung was aware that they were battling financially. He was aware that she would receive visitors in exchange for providing food for the table. However, Cai Lung was not concerned with that. He just wanted to remain with her.
“I could get a job in one of the brothels; either cooking or cleaning,” he offered. Yet her decision had already been made. “No, I will not allow you to be involved with those places. You have a noble heritage. You should experience the life I once had, instead of enduring it here. You are only fifteen summers old, Cai Lung. I need to make sure that I provide you with the best I can. I implore you to go and make me and your baba proud.”
Cai Lung could not look her in the eye, unable to comprehend that she would do this. He abruptly ended the conversation by leaving the room. Now, as he sat on his Kong reflecting on how his life was about to be transformed, realizing that he would never see his mother again... Cai Lung placed his head down, closed his eyes, and allowed the darkness to envelop him, wishing that tomorrow wouldn’t arrive.
“Cai Lung...” “Cai Lung...” “Cai Lung..”
He could hear someone calling out his name, but who was it?
“Cai Lung...” A hand shook him. Cai Lung scrambled to open his eyes, which were aching for some reason. Then, his recollection of the prior day’s exchange began to flood back into his mind. When he finally opened his eyes, he was met with the gaze of his Mu Quin.
“Oh...Cai Lung,” she uttered, “your eyes are red. Did you cry yourself to sleep?”
Gazing at her, Cai Lung thought she was stunning. He often contemplated how his baba had managed to gain her affections. He believed that she had come from wealth. Who would leave that lifestyle for the one she currently had; her reputation sullied, she was unable to return to the Zhong family. Her porcelain skin glowed, her petite face contained lips so red that it looked like they had been applied with paint, her frame was slender and slim.
“It’s time.” she said.
“It’s time,” she declared.
Cai Lung pondered how she had been able to carry a baby in her womb with those narrow hips. She had proposals from the Prince for marriage. Had it not been for his baba, she would have been residing in a harem. The men in Fu Shan used to marvel at how his baba had managed to bring such a lovely woman home. Yet, Cai Lung’s Mu Quin had only ever loved his baba and she still does even now, in his passing. After he had gone, there were numerous Fu Shan admirers who wanted her as their mistress, but she would not accept any of the offers. Heaving a sigh, Cai Lung sat up and wiped his eyes.
“Mu Quin, I don’t know how to ride a horse,” Cai Lung stated while drawing clean water from the bucket to splash on his face.
His Mu Quin retrieved a clean cloth from the table and began to dry his face, her eyes filled with tears. “Cai Lung.” she uttered, “my sweet, sweet butterfly. You are exceptionally precious to me and I will do whatever I can to guarantee that you have a prosperous future. You are not like other boys. Your figure is slim and slender.” She turned him around and started to braid his hip-length hair. Cai Lung was aware that his physique was constructed similarly to that of a girl. People had regularly mistaken him for one, more times than he could count. But that was only because he resembled his Mu Quin. That did not mean he was as fragile as people assumed. He was able to fight like a man and was capable of using a sword. His father had instructed him in the art of sword fighting from an early age, so appearances can be deceiving. His mother, however, had a different opinion.
“There, you look attractive and dashing,” she mentioned after she had finished dressing him and pulled him into her embrace. She clasped his hand and guided him out of the room.
There was a man standing beside two horses, grasping their reins, appearing to be deep in thought. When he heard them drawing closer, he glanced up. He then bowed his head low and spoke. “Young miss… young master Cai Lung, my name is Zing Ah. I’m here to escort you on your return to the capital on general Zhong Lang Cai orders,” he declared.
“Zing Ah, raise your head. There’s no need for you to bow. I am no longer a lady of the Zhong fu, just a common woman,” she stated.
“No, Young madam. I cannot do that. You will forever be the young miss Sue Lin of Zhong fu.” he said, smiling, Cai Lung’s mother wore a smile when she informed him, “Please take care of my Er long.”
“It would be an honor, lady Lin Er,” he replied.
Turning her attention to Cai Lung, she said it was time for them to depart. She opened her hands and stepped back, returning to her quarters and closing the sliding doors behind her.
Cai Lung remained motionless, hoping that his Mu Quin would come back out and tell him that she had changed her mind and he should remain. But sadly, that never occurred. Cai Lung moved forward with unsteady steps, heading towards the horses. Zing Ah gave him a sorrowful smile, then mounted one horse and held out his hand to help Cai Lung onto the same mount, sitting behind him. After Cai Lung was seated, the horses began to move. He was now on his way, far away from the only family he had ever known.