Here we begin with the Main Chapters of A Lifetime of Longing. We get to see a bit of Xi Shi’s background and the aftermath of the War. There’re bonds, there’s love, there’s sadness and there’s determination on display in this chapter. Well, go ahead and enjoy!
Chapter 1: Surrender or Defeat?
That was a word that had never been used in the lands of the Xue Nong since hundreds of years. They’d never been defeated. And they’d never surrendered.
But now they did. A white flag was flying on the Capital City’s Walls. It meant peace, her maid Xiao Gu told her. But Xi Shi knew better.
It means surrender.
She wondered how it had happened. How men like Chen He Shan let it happen?
Then she found out. General Chen He Shui was killed on the battlefield by the Crown Prince of Ming. And her Royal Father decided to save lives and surrendered.
She knew that Chen He Shan must have been totally against this decision. After all, wouldn’t he want to avenge his father’s murder? But he had no choice, because the power’s in her father’s hands. Her father, who had only three sons left living now.
She walked through the desolate harem. Desolate was never a word used to describe the ever-lively harem which would always be filled with the chattering of her many step-mothers.
But many of them died after receiving the news of their sons’ deaths. Grief killed them.
And many others died because they thought that the Ming Soldiers wouldn’t spare them even though they surrendered. Honor killed them.
Xi Shi wondered whether her father would mourn any of his dead wives. Probably no. after all, he’d married for duty. Just as she will have to, in the future.
Consort Mu had always told her about how lucky she is that she’s a girl. She will never be involved in the power struggle for the throne. She’ll never have to worry about turning into an enemy to her brothers. Truth be told, they’ll be eager to please her because they’ll want to gain political mileage by marrying her into a powerful family.
Sixteen year old Xue Xi Shi has always known that for most people, she’s just a pawn. But in reality, she can never be controlled by anybody. She’s as free as anyone else in this world.
And this fact is evident because though she can’t ride a horse, she loves horse-riding. And it was Chen He Shan who always rode the horse while she held the reins. She would sit on the saddle, in front of him, as she’d done since she was a child of five years.
Xi Shi isn’t new to battles and bloodshed either, as the neighboring Nou Nin Desert Tribes always waged battles and attacked the Xue Nong.
And her duty as the Royal Princess was to play the Qin in the Camp of the Soldier the night before the battle, to inspire them. God may not have gifted her with beauty, but her skill with the Qin and her magical singing talent were unquestionable.
She always sings about how it is alright if the soldiers die in the battlefield. And they need not worry about leaving their family behind. Even if they suffer defeat, let it be an honorable one, so that their families can kill themselves with pride and not let the invaders dishonor them.
Honor was life to the people of the Xue Nong.
And by surrendering, they have just lost that life.
Xi Shi tired of walking through the harem, as she felt distressed by the scenes in the harem. The maids were crying over their former mistresses’ bodies. She could smell the faint scent of poison emanating from the chambers, indicating that the Concubines had poisoned themselves. It made her feel dizzy.
So she took a secret passage that nobody knew existed. Through her dead mother’s room, there’s a secret passage that led to a narrow corridor through which one could hear conversations being held in all the rooms of the palace. Probably, her father used this passage to meet her mother regularly without having to be accosted by his other wives.
As she passed her father’s chambers, she remembered the last time she’d been in this exact spot. It was four years ago, that she’d overheard her father and General Chen He Shui talking.
Her father must have been drunk, because he was slurring slightly. “She’s feisty… my child. But she’s better than my sons, He Shui. I couldn’t protect her mother. But I want to protect her….”
“I understand, Your Majesty,” General Chen bowed his head.
“He Shui, I’m not asking you as the King of the Xue Nong, but as the father of a simple but intelligent and wise girl, will your son take my daughter’s hand for marriage when they come of age?” asked her father, suddenly seeming very humble.
Without hesitation, General Chen replied, “It would be my honor, Your Majesty, to have the Princess come to my humble home as my daughter-in-law!”
Her father laughed sadly. “I hope you’ll take care of her, He Shui! My daughter needs people who genuinely love her. The palace has become too dangerous.”
“But nobody will dare to harm the Princess, Your Majesty!” General assured him.
“The palace isn’t a battlefield where you can subdue your enemy with brute force and strategy alone, General Chen. This is a place without honor and love. This is the most dangerous place in the world. That little girl has been living here with the help of Consort Mu for all these years. But I’m sure that she’ll be able to live anywhere in this entire world, because she’s survived the horrors of this place,” said her father, slightly ruefully.
Xi Shi had been shocked. Suddenly, she realized that she hadn’t been living here. She’d been surviving. She’d been a deer thrown in a room of lions. And life’s never been the same after that one incident.
Suddenly, Chen He Shan seemed to appear in a different light to her. She blushed whenever he touched her casually. Her heart beat sped up when she felt his breath behind her when they rode horses. Her cheeks warmed up when he gazed at her with admiration while she played the Qin.
Everything changed after that one conversation.
And now, four years later, General Chen He Shui is dead, Chen He Shan is upset and angry at her father and is thirsting for revenge, and her father surrendered to the Imperial Armies of the Ming Empire.
Wow! I mean, seriously! We get to see parts and pieces of Xi Shi’s life. But from one glance it’s very clear that it’s very difficult to know who’s the enemy and who’s the friend in her life. It does feel weird that when you turn back time and look at things, suddenly everything seems very strange. It’s a feeling that we all go through at one point of time or the other.
But I love Xi Shi because she takes things in her stride. She doesn’t get disheartened and sees a ray of hope in everything. And also, who wouldn’t a love a girl who detects poison after just one sniff?!