Chapter 1 – The Beginning
"Your majesty, are you sure you want to do this?" Yong Ming heard his protector's worried voice from behind and smiled reassuringly. It is true that his idea of secretly going out from the palace is really dangerous, and even though his protector and childhood friend Rui Lang has legitimate reasons to worry, he still can't give up on this last chance of momentary freedom. He is a king; he has always been one from the early age of 13. His father, the previous king had died early from grave illness and as the only heir to the throne, he automatically become the next in line. His honourable mother, the Empress Dowager had helped him in running the kingdom until he reached 18; and now, when he reached 26, it seems like his honourable mother has switched her concern from official court matters to his royal wedding instead. Which, bother him to no end.
"Of course I'm sure. This is the only chance for me to see the outside world. Away from the nagging ministers and for once, I really want to see the common people's ways of living. Besides, you should know how hard it is to finally convince my honourable mother and I even got her permission to do it. There's no way I'm going to back out." Yong Ming cheerfully said.
"I know how much you want to go through this trip. But are you sure of the consequences? You're trading the rest of your lives just to go. I heard the Empress Dowager has begun her search." Rui Lang knows just how much his king and childhood friend hated the idea of arranged marriage. He has been utterly shocked when he heard that his king is willing to trade this trip with his marriage as promise to the Empress Dowager. He thought there is something wrong with his ears! Even though, it is very common for the royal family to do this kind of thing. In fact, most of the marriage is done this way. The Empress Dowager herself married the previous king through the same way. So, it is not surprising to say that this kind of thing will be brought up to his friend. Actually, it is stranger to see that Yong Ming hasn't had a Queen until now. Usually, the royalties marry in the early age of 18 and even earlier for ladies which are born in the royal families. Thus, the Empress Dowager pushiness is understandable.
"I know, I don't want an arranged marriage either. But what else can I do? I'm 26 this year and I don't have a Queen yet. This means I have no heir. I'm sure my honourable mother won't let it go any longer. So, I might as well get something in return for this."
As someone who is born and raised in the inner court of the palace, Yong Ming knows very well how dangerous can it be living inside there. He saw many of the court ladies tried to get his honourable father attention so their sons can become king in the future. He saw how one gentle and beautiful lady could become a cold-blooded killer for power and riches. He saw how siblings kill each other to ensure that one of them will become the ruler of the land. It is through luck and his honourable mother's wit that he is able to live and ascend to the throne. Hence, he made a promise to himself that the only women he will have in his reign is the Queen and her son, will become the next ruler of Nan Ying. He really wished he could find his Queen by himself. A woman that is noble, smart and kind. But there is no such a woman until know, so maybe it is time to give up and let his honourable mother take care of it.
"Well if you are sure, it's good and all. Anyway, the preparation for the trip is complete. We'll head to Xiang City tomorrow and we should reach Hong City in 2 days' time. We've contacted merchant Guo and he already sent a reply saying he is waiting for your arrival." Rui Lang reports it with professionalism and sternness which sometimes remind the king that his childhood friend is older by 2 years than he is.
"That's great! It's been a very long time since the last time I saw him. I was 10 back then when he decided to throw away his nobility to become a commoner instead. It's such a pity that the best scholar that our kingdom has ever known choose to hide his talent and become a merchant." He remembers that day very well. It was a very cold winter day when his distant-uncle came to meet him to say his goodbyes. Even though Guo Lin Mu is his honourable father's distant cousin, they get along very well. And as a result, Yong Ming and Guo Lin Mu have been close since he was a child. He always thought of Guo Lin Mu as a second father. It really saddens him that he chooses to leave the court and become a commoner instead. But the thought of seeing his Uncle again in a few days thrills him and that night, Yong Ming had a hard time sleeping.
Hong City, Guo Manor.
"Dad, you mean there is someone who is going to come and stay at our house in a few days? Who is the person anyway? Is that person one of our relatives?" a sweet and cheerful voice full of curiosity relentlessly asked Guo Lin Mu about his upcoming guests and he chuckled in response. The voice belongs to his only daughter Guo Yu.
"I wonder, which one of your questions that I should answer first? Yu Er, stop being so excited and come to sit by my side. Then I'll answer all your curiosity." Guo Lin Mu said to her daughter in a fatherly manner. His daughter really is the biggest comfort in his life. The little one lost her mother in the early age, but the child never ever said anything about it. Sometimes, it saddened him to think about how lonely she must be when he goes out to travel for their business. Yu Er is a very intelligent child; she has a mind and perception of her own which sometimes worried him. She excels in everything she learns except martial arts and she is very understanding and kind to others. Well, maybe she is too curious for her own good but, overall, she is a perfect daughter. At least to him, she is.
"Stop teasing and tell me who is the person that going to visit us? I heard from Guo Fu, that person is older than me. I hope it's a girl. I really wanted a sister." She asked with such a hopeful tone and her eyes shines and grows so big that it looks like a cat's. Guo Lin Mu really wished he can laugh aloud; her daughter really is the biggest joy in his life.
"Well, sadly for you the person is a 'he' not a 'she' and yes, he is one of our distant relatives. He is older than you by 8 years. So you should treat him as your older brother and respect him as one too." Guo Lin Mu smiled widely and chuckled a bit after seeing his daughter expression change to a disappointment. He quickly add, "His name is Yong Ming, you should call him by 'Brother Ming', and he will stay with us for few weeks. I'm very close with his father, though sadly he is no longer with us now. So, I expect you to treat him nicely."
"Yes father, I will." Yu Er said dutifully. She then excused herself to go back to her room. She really wished she has a sister and the relative turns out to be a 'he'. Her curiosity vanished in an instant and there is nothing she could do except sulking in her room and silently sneak out from the house to visit her secret hiding place. She is determined to treat her 'distant-cousin' well but there is no way she would take him to her secret hiding place in the forest behind her house. She planned to share her secret with a 'sister' but not with a 'brother'. After all, this kingdom discriminates against female like any other kingdom around. A girl like her which has a mind of her own is considered as an 'uneducated lady' and will be punished instead. Although her father is different than those discriminating jerks, there is no way that her 'distant-cousin' will understand how she feels about this.
Usually, at her age of 18 most of the young ladies have many friends to share their feelings and thoughts. But not her, she didn't have a single friend that she could share with. Not to mention her intelligence actually drives people away from her too. The men find her too smart and opinionated while the females find her strange and too independent. Thus, she has no friends except for her black mare Zui Feng. She usually takes him almost everywhere. Well, actually it's just her secret hiding place but, the point is, Zui Feng never discriminate her! But he does discriminate against others. He only allows her to ride on his back which pleases her greatly. And since that moment, they become inseparable.