I have to admit, this chapter take a really long time to write. I’m not sure if it was writer’s block or if it’s just plain difficulty in plotting it out but I found it strange since I knew in the back of my mind what I want to happen in this chapter. Hopefully, this chapter comes out okay.
Chapter 2: The General’s Request
One week later
In the quiet afternoon, two people sat drinking tea and exchanging conversations under an old pavilion overlooking a small stream that run by the Zhang’s resident. At a glance, no one would suspect that the tall dark man with graying hair was actually the country’s most powerful and feared general, Miao Jiang Feng. Until then, Three Lake Village had never had the occasions to host such a prestigious man. It was an honor for the Zhang’s family indeed.
Like the few pervious days, General Miao Jiang Feng accompanied Madam Zhang for tea after Lian Hua had left to the market. He had long since recovered from the poison, thanked to the antidote Lian Hua had retrieved from the assassins. His strength had also returned due to Lian Hua and Madam Zhang constantly making him herbal soup.
While recovering, he had taken resident in the Zhang’s home until he had to leave for the capital. The resident wasn’t extravagant, but was comfortable and his hosts were kind and understanding. During his stay, General Miao learned that the Zhang’s household only have Lian Hua and her mother, Zhang Er Niang. The master of the household, Zhang Hong, had passed away three years ago in a hunting accident. Madam Zhang revealed that her husband was a strange man. He’d raised Lian Hua more like a son than a daughter. Unlike the maidens of Three Lakes Village, Lian Hua was encouraged by her father to be educated and study martial arts under Abbess Yunfeng at Moon Lake Abbey. Hence, he sent their daughter up to Mt. Hua at a small age.
She admitted that she was not happy with the decision. She wanted her daughter to have a simple and happy life. Now that she was educated and skilled in martial arts, what man would marry a woman who is like him? A man need a gentle wife and mother for his children. Her Lia Hua is now a determined and outspoken child, not qualities a man want in a wife.
Since she became a student of Abbess Yunfeng, Lian Hua had become a fanciful child. She does not want to become a proper lady and get married. She only wants to study martial arts and becomes stronger so she can travel. With her passion and diligence, Abbess Yunfeng had even voiced her desire in having Lian Hua as her successful. Knowing that there was nothing she could do to change her daughter’s mind, Madam Zhang had long since given up hope that Lian Hua would become settled.
While he understood Madam Zhang’s plight, General Miao could knew why Master Hong had chosen this route for his daughter. He noted that since Lian Hua was the only child, Zhang Hong must not want her to be taken advantage of by others. If he was in the same shoe, he will make the same decision. After observing Lian Hua for a few days, he knew that she was an independent, intelligent and courageous child. She was also very compassionate and selfless or she would not have risked her life to save him. With a spirit like Lian Hua, Zhang Hong was an astute man when he send her to Moon Lake Abby.
It had been a long time since General Miao had met anyone such as Lian Hua. Even in his majesty’s service, these qualities were rare among his soldiers. Furthermore, he now owed her his life. After many days of deliberations, he finally decided that he could not let Lian Hua slip through his fingers. Lian Hua will indeed make a great addition to the Miao’s household.
“Madam Zhang,” he started after taking a sip of tea. “I thank you for taking care of this old me for the last few days. Your hospitality and kindness will be kept in Miao’s family heart forever. If you ever need anything, please let me know.”
Madam Zhang smiled as she gracefully poured him another cup of tea. “General Miao is being to gracious. For many years you have risked your life to keep our country safe from rebellions and invaders. A small thing like providing a place for General Miao to stay and recuperate is nothing. Please don’t think too much on it.”
He chuckled. “Madam Zhang is too courteous. A good deed is a good deed. It doesn’t matter how big or small,” he replied. “I hope madam won’t hesitate to tell me if you need my help.”
Nodding, Madam Zhang let the matter rest. She knew the general was a generous man but she had no intention of burdening him. Although she was not rich, she was content with her modest life. There was nothing her old self need at this stage in her life.
A quietness passed as the two drank their tea and basked in the peacefulness of the day. Although winter was coming, the day was surprisingly warm. Scents of cherry blossom mingled with the air as it blew softly across the pavilion. General Miao considered how to approach an important matter regarding his intentions towards Lian Hua.
“Madam, if you don’t mind, I have a matter I would like to discuss with you,” he said, deciding to approach the issue directly. “It’s regarding Miss Zhang.”
Madam Zhang paused in the process of drinking her tea. After a moment, she carefully place the teacup down. Keeping her face expressionless, she inquired the man in front of her. “Have my Lian’er offended General Miao somehow?”
General Miao was surprised. “Offend me? No, no. Impossible! Miss Zhang had been good to me since the day she rescued me from the forest. Please don’t think this way. This matter, I hope madam can help me. What I want to discuss with madam is in regard to Miss Zhang’s future.”
Madam Zhang hands started to shake so she quickly placed them on her lap, away from his view. She twisted her hand in her skirt as she considered his words.
In hindsight, she had known this was coming. Although she had despaired that her daughter may never marry, she was not oblivious to her suitors. Her Lian Hua was a beautiful young woman. She had the soft features that men found soothing; long black hair that cascade down her black, a kind smile, and sparkling brown eyes that could melt the heart of any men. Still, it was her kind heart and gentle presence that attracted her suitors. Thus, many men, rich and poor alike, had come to her father and asked for her hand in marriage. To her dismay, her husband had turned them away saying that she was still young and he want to keep her around longer.
Only Er Niang knew the truth. Her husband wanted Lian Hua to choose her own fate.
Therefore, it was no surprise to her that General Miao wouldn’t fall for her daughter. She might live in a secluded village far from the capital but she was not naive to the customs of rich and powerful men. She will not insult General Miao by thinking of him in the same capacity as those greedy and lecherous men, but she had noticed how the general had been looking at her daughter. Although he was not a womanizing man, he was not blind to Lian’er beauty. Some of the villagers had even made comment to her and some had even congratulated her for her soon to be good fortune.
Now that her daughter had made herself a savior of a great general, it would be a matter of time when the general will take her as his wife.
One of her neighbor had pulled her aside one morning as they were washing clothes by the stream. “I heard that the general’s wife had passed away over a decade ago. Although he had married a second wife, the primary wife position is still open. How lucky is it that your daughter may have a chance to not only marry a wealthy and powerful man, but she will also become a powerful madam herself?” she exclaimed with excitement.
However, Er Niang was not happy about this. Although she had every respect for the general, she do not welcome the idea that Lian’er will marry a man old enough to be her father. And with her daughter’s free spirit, she will not be happy living in a manor where she’ll be confined for most of her life.
While she would be ecstatic if Lian’er marry, now that her husband had passed, it was up to her to keep his wish. Lian’er will chose her own fate. If it’s in her power, she will do anything to make it possible!
Forcing a smile on her face, she wondered how she could gently refuse the general’s offer without incurring his wrath. “My Lian’er is still young yet. She is naive and has a lot to learn. I hope that General Miao keep that in mind and not take any offense.”
“Madam speaks very light of your daughter. Miss Zhang may be young but she is very mature and compassionate for her age. If you don’t mind, I would like to have her go to Lou Yang with me.”
Er Niang frozed, speechless, as she tried to find a suitable reason to deny him.
“You may already know that I’m approaching in years. I will not get any younger,” General Miao continued. “Miss Zhang is like a breath of fresh air. I believe that having her in my resident will brighten up my home, which had been quiet for the last few decades. What does Madam think of this?”
A long moment passed before Er Niang was able to speak. “Please forgive this lowly servant for speaking her mind, but I hope general would reconsider. My Lian’er is still young yet. She will not make you a good companion. Although she could read and write, she is unworldly. She had never been away from the abby or this village. Her only attribute is that she is skilled with martial arts. Not only that, our family is not noble. I am a daughter of a seamstress and my husband was an orphan who was fortunate enough to be raised by a kind martial master. Bringing her into your home may cause people to look down on your family.”
General Miao was stunned. He looked at Madam Zhang in surprised.
While she still have courage, Er Niang continued. “There are many eligible maiden who will be able to serve you, general. If General Miao is looking for other ways to repay her for saving your life, there is always other methods. The Zhang family is a humble one. We are honored just by having General Miao thinking of us and giving us this offer.”
Understanding dawned as he considered Madam Zhang’s words. Seeing her fearful expression and desperate attempt to reject his request without incurring his wrath, he couldn’t help but laugh.
Er Niang was shocked. Has she finally incurred his wrath after all? Perhaps in her haste to reject him, she had offended him with her words. What was she to do? Maybe if she explain that she was just a woman looking to protect her daughter and honor her late husband’s wishes, would he understand?
“Madam,” the general said, after pouring them a fresh cup of tea. In his shock, their teacups had turned cold. “Perhaps you may have misunderstood me. What did you think my offer to bring Miss Zhang back to Lou Yang with me meant?”
She blinked. “Did General Miao not mean to ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage?” she asked cautiously as she watched him drank his tea.
“Hand in marria—” He was speechless. So Madam Zhang did misunderstood him. He recalled their conversation and realized that it was his fault for not clarifying his intentions. He placed his teacup down. “Madam, I have nothing but respect for Miss Zhang. Had I been twenty years younger, it would be my honor to ask for her hand.”
Er Niang frowned. “Forgive me. I have misunderstood you.”
He held up his hand. “It is not your fault. There is nothing to apologize for.”
Happy that he did not take offense, Er Niang quickly drank her tea. “Perhaps General Miao can clarify.”
He nodded. “I would like to have Miss Zhang as my goddaughter.”
Later that night, Er Niang went to her daughter’s bedroom after General Miao had retired to his room.
Lian Hua was sitting at the vanity combing her hair. When she saw her mother entered the room, she smiled and quickly handed her mother her comb.
Er Niang smiled as she caressed her daughter’s sleek black hair. Lian Hua had always been closer to her husband when he was alive. Therefore, her relationship with Lian’er had always been distance. However, they have become closer in the last few years after his deaths.
While combing, Er Niang recalled the conversation she had with General Miao that day. “Lian’er, mother have something to ask you.”
“What do you think of General Miao?”
Lian Hua considered for a moment. “I think he is a good man, a hero to the nation. Not only did he put a stop to the invasion, but he is benevolent and always give to the poor. He loves the people and is not a greedy man. Our nation never had a better man leading our military forces.”
“Compared to your father, what do you think about him?”
Lian Hua frowned. “Mother, why are you asking me to compare father and the general? They are different men. Father was a good man, an attentive husband and a loving father. The general is good man too and is a hero to his people. To compare them is meaningless as they are good men in their own rights.”
Er Niang was quiet as she though of her daughter’s words. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have asked you to compare them.”
Her daughter nodded and smiled, smoothing down a few strands of hair that had fallen over her shoulders. “Why are you questioning me about General Miao? Is there a problem?”
Er Niang shook her head. “There is no problem. It’s just…” She sighed. “Lian’er, what do you think of having the general as your godfather?”
Lian Hua was speechless. A general’s goddaughter?
“I know that you love your father and that no one could replace him in your heart,” Er Niang said. “But the general is a good man. He will treat you well.”
The room lapsed into a tense silence as Er Niang waited for her daughter to speak. Her heart pounded as she wondered at her daughter’s answer. While most women will jump at the offer, her Lian’er was not just any maiden.
Since an infancy, Lian Hua had an unprecedented preference for her father. As a small child, she could be found dodging her father’s footsteps as he did his chores. In her adolescence, one word from her father was all it took to put a smile on her face or send her into depression. Will Lian Hua be able to accept another person into her life?
Suddently, Lian Hua reached up and touched her mother’s hand, her eyes seeking hers through the copper mirror. “Mother, you can decide for me,” she whispered.
Understanding, Er Niang nodded.