Life in this pandemic totally changes my life. Therefore I try to use my time in a more productive way: to read more books, and improve my skills in reading Chinese poetry. Then I was inspired by A Song By Yue Girl - an ancient poem from 2500 years ago, to write historical fiction.
今夕何夕兮，搴舟中流 Jīnxī hé xī xī, qiān zhōu zhōngliú what evening is this evening that I could roam leisurely on this little boat? 今日何日兮，得与王子同舟 Jīnrì hé rì xī, dé yǔ wángzǐ tóngzhōu what day is today that I could be in the same boat with a prince? 蒙羞被好兮，不訾诟耻 Méng xiū bèi hǎo xī, bù zī gòu chǐ be granted a favour, the prince did not give me a cold shoulder, nor look down on me although I am merely a boatman 心几烦而不绝兮，得知王子 xīn jǐ fán ér bù jué xī, dé zhī wángzǐ my heart is perturbed since I know that he is a prince 山有木兮木有枝兮， shān yǒu mù xī mù yǒu zhī xī, hills have their trees. trees have their branches. 心悦君兮君不知 xīn yuè jūn xī jūn bùzhī deep inside my heart I like you, but you just don't know it.
This poem is very beautiful, that even a translation is not enough to convey the love story between the Yue girl boatman and Lord E (Ejun Zixi 鄂君子皙)
Chapter 1 : A Rebellion. When History Repeated Again
That year in winter, King Ling of Chu led another army to besiege and conquer the capital of Xu State to prepare an invasion of Wu State. The siege lasted until the next summer when he heard that his third brother - Prince Zigan launched a coup at Chu State capital and took control of Chu's government.
King Ling's army then almost completely deserted him, while the remaining loyal troops broke off the siege of Xu and began to retreat to the Chu State, only to be overwhelmed by an army of Wu at Yuzhang.
King Ling and is loyal troops managed to escape from the battle and were secretly marched back to his capital at Ying.
Never he had expected that his youngest fifth brother - Prince Qiji led a band of troops to capture him.
King Ling was virtually left all alone with only a few troops to protect him. Yet, Prince Qiji had threatened the people and told them not to provide food or shelter to any strangers. Therefore the king and his remaining troops became hungry.
Then one day, Prince Qiji and his troops managed to catch him.
When Prince Qiji saw how miserable he was, he said : "My brother king, there's no use for you to resist!" Prince Qiji laughed. "It's better for you to commit suicide and let me bring your head to the new King Zigan as a tribute!"
King Ling had lost all of his guards and troops. He only had ten loyal guards who were still on his side.
King Ling sighed and said, "Eleven years ago, I killed my older brother's crown prince and took his throne! And now, my younger brother also killed my crown prince and took my throne!" He made a strange sound like howling. It's not clear if he's wailing or he's angry at his circumstances. "Destiny! It's destiny that the house of Chu has to face this kind of tragedy! I hope with my death; there's no more killing in our family! Be a loyal minister to Zigan! You should stop this killing! We're born from the same father anyway!"
With his last statement, King Ling took his sword and slit his own throat to end his life.
Prince Qiji closed his eyes as his brother's blood spurted on his face.
Somehow, his brother's final word inspired him.
Back to the capital of Chu at Ying City, Prince Qiji tore his own clothes and hurriedly reported to the new king - King Zigan - his third brother.
"My good brother!" Prince Qiji kneeled with tears in his eyes.
King Zigan saw his torn clothes and disheveled hair. He knitted his eyebrows and asked, "Qiji, don't tell me that you didn't manage to kill that bastard, King Ling!"
"Please forgive me, brother!" Prince Qiji sobbed. "He's indeed formidable and cunning. After he heard about your coup d'etat, he left Xu State and about to return to Chu State as soon as possible. But, on his way, he met some messengers of the Wu State. They talked and negotiated, and in the end, he agreed to make peace with Wu State as long Wu State was willing to lend him some troops to take revenge on us! My troops had a clash with King Ling's troops and the Wu army who assisted him!"
King Zigan's face changed. "How come that be?" He turned his head to his fourth brother - Lord Ejun - Zixi, and asked, "Brother Zixi, what do you think we should do now?"
Zixi was a calm man. Among the five sons of the late King Gong, he's the most peaceful and the most pacified one. Actually, among the five sons, he's the only one who didn't possess any similarity with his brothers. He had a handsome, calm face, while his brothers owned strong bones and not too flattering look. His brothers tend to be a bit short and muscular, while he's lean and tall. His brothers loved martial arts and military while he enjoyed arts and poetry.
"My brother, instead of being panicked, let's wait until he arrives!" Zixi said. He felt something fishy in this whole deal.
Qiji had his own ambition. He wanted to be a king, although he didn't want to dirt his hand by killing his third brother Zigan. Therefore he had to come up with a mature plan to take the throne and to eliminate Zigan forever.
The next day, he made all of his troops to use King Ling's banner to march to the palace to topple down King Zigan.
King Zigan saw how the army was entering the palace gate, and he knew that his doom was determined.
Zixi was a calm observer. He knew that this all was a trick did by Qiji to eliminate Zigan and himself. He had no ambition to be a king, yet he didn't want to die under Qiji, who was full of trickery. Therefore Zixi decided to persuade Zigan to run away.
Zixi had been living in exile at Zheng State for more than eleven years. He had nothing to lose and decided to run away by himself.
King Zigan - the third prince, was not a smart man. He didn't investigate the matter clearly, and he didn't want to run away either. He committed suicide in his fear that King Ling would punish him severely. Zigan only reigned for eighteen days. He was posthumously called as King Zi'ao.
Meanwhile, Zixi knew that Qiji, his youngest brother, would not spare his life. He knew that the royal house of Chu, his father's sons were destined to die at Qiji's cause. Therefore he just fled for his life.
"Lord Ejun, we should go to Wu to avoid Qiji!" said his guard. "The king of Wu will spare our lives, and from Wu, we can gather our strength to take revenge!"
"Revenge? And when will all this blood bath will end?" Lord Ejun said.
"My Lord, don't you want to revenge Qiji for his trickery?"
"No! This is destiny!"
"That day, my father held a great sacrifice to the qun wang (hills and rivers, collectively. A deity that they worshipped at that time) and prayed, saying: "I beg that the spirits choose among these five, one who will take charge of the rites of the grains and soil [become a ruler]." My father then exhibited a jade disc to the qun wang and said: "The one who worships directly before the bi shall be the one chosen by the spirits. Who would dare to oppose this judgment?" When the ceremony was over, he and his concubine from Ba secretly buried the jade disk in the courtyard of the great hall of the ancestral temple. He had us, his five sons fasted and entered to worship in order of age, beginning with the eldest. My eldest brother, King Kang, stepped over the spot where the jade disk was buried, and my second brother, KingLing, inadvertently touched it with his arm, while Zigan and I both missed it by a wide mark. Qiji, who was very young, was carried in and after being set down worshiped twice, both times crushing the rope the jade disk!" Zixi sighed.
"It is indeed destiny that Qiji would be a king. With the price of his brothers' lives!" Zixi said: "Zigan has got his ill fate since he insisted to be a king while he's not destined to be a king! While for me, I have never been interested in being a king!"
"My lord, then where should we go now?" his guard asked.
"Let's take a boat, and let the stream takes us where we should go!" Zixi said.
They walked a bit further and waited for a boat to come.
Eleven years earlier, because of his Second Brother rebellion, Zixi also had to flee to avoid a massacre. During his fled, he was also drifting in this river before finally could reach Zheng State.
Eleven years was just a blink of an eye for a certain people. Yet for some people, eleven years could be forever.
540 BC - The Border of Chu and Yue.
Zixi with his ten men had to run for their lives. His second brother, Prince Wei, killed his nephew - the King Jia Ao, who only reigned for three years.
Prince Wei had served as King Jia Ao prime minister. One day when Jia'ao was ill, Prince Wei murdered him and his two sons and usurped the throne.
Prince Wei's younger brothers: Prince Zigan, Prince Zixi, and Prince Qiji, then all had to flee to save their own lives.
Zixi was saved by his ten men and flee away from Chu State.
Yet Prince Wei didn't let him go. He sent his men to chase Zixi and his other brothers.
And that day, Zixi and his men were ambushed by Prince Wei's troops. Zixi managed to escape, but he was separated from his men.
Zixi was a king's son for his whole life. He had never experienced hardship in his life. Leading an army to a military campaign was easier for him than being all alone in a forest in a place where he had never been before.
There were at least twenty men were hunting him while he's all alone. He clutched his swords tightly while he's trying to hide and escape the soldiers. He's lucky that the dense forest could hide him temporarily.
The troops were divided into groups to search in four directions to catch Zixi.
Although the forest was pretty dense, it was not easy for Zixi to be able to escape. He was not lucky. Two soldiers spotted him, and they called the other troops for help to catch him.
Zixi used his sword to kill the two soldiers, but the other soldiers who had heard them managed to go to his direction to catch him. Zixi ran as fast as he could to the course of the hills.
The forest trees were getting denser and denser. Zixi knew the soldiers might let him go since the forest had many wild beasts. He probably survived those soldiers, but he might not survive the wild beasts in the woods.
It was getting dark, and Zixi, who was exhausted, decided to take a rest. He thought that he was saved until he heard a scream, and some blood spurted on his face.
Just as he opened up his eyes, a body fell over him. It's a Chu soldier body. And one figure was standing in front of him, staring at him with sharp eyes. It was a girl.
The girl was probably only fifteen or sixteen years old. She wore simple clothes from plant fibers, had a long disheveled hair, with no shoes on. She was a barbarian Yue. She just killed a Chu soldier who was about to kill him.
Zixi didn't know how to react. The barbarian girl killed the soldier with only bamboo that she used as a spear to stab the man.
Although she killed that soldier and saved him, it doesn’t mean that she would not harm him. She’s a barbarian anyway.
He pointed out his sword toward the girl, and said: "Who are you? We are not enemies."
The girl said something in a language that he didn't understand while she pointed to the northern direction. Just as she was speaking, they could hear some noise of the soldiers who were heading to their course.
Without saying anything, the girl took Zixi's hand and dragged him away in the opposite direction.
Zixi knew that his chance to live was very little. Either the soldiers would kill him, or he was eaten by the wild beasts in the forest. Therefore he gambled with his life and let the barbarian girl dragged him away. Who knew that she probably was trying to save him?
The girl who lived in the forest was familiar with the forest. She led the way to go deeper into the forest.
It was already sunset, and it was a new moon. It was complete darkness. Zixi could not see anything and had to rely on the girl to lead his way. He clutched her hand tightly.
After some time, the girl suddenly stopped, and she said something in a low voice. Zixi didn't understand her words. Yet he could guess what she was trying to say. She suggested they take a rest.
In the darkness, he couldn't see anything. He felt his hand was pulled by the girl, and he carefully sat on the ground. The girl chose a big tree for them to be able to rest their back on.
In the darkness, without any light, he heard wolves started to howl, while nocturnal birds began to chirp.
It was just yesterday when he was sleeping at the palace. And in just less than a day, suddenly, his life turned up-side-down. Early before dawn, his guards entered his bedroom to persuade him to run away to escape his second brother.
He didn't believe that his second brother had any intention to kill him; therefore, he didn't want to leave the palace. Just when he was arguing with his trusted guard, another guard reported that a group of soldiers had besieged his house.
Zixi was worried about his wife and his two children. He jumped from his bed and shouted, "My family! I have to bring them away with me!"
Yet his guard didn't waste any time. He knocked out Zixi's head and put him on a sack and smuggled him out of the palace as soon as possible. When Zixi regained his consciousness, he was already in a chariot miles away from Ying City.
Zixi didn't know exactly what happened to his wife and children. But he could imagine what would have happened to them. His son would inevitably have been slaughtered, and his daughter would be enslaved. While his wife, if she's willing to be obedient, she would become the new king's woman. But if she was not compliant, either she would be killed, or she would be sold in a brothel. Such cruel was the life of a fallen royal family.
Zixi closed his eyes while tears flew from his eyes. He heard some noise from his left side. The girl gathered some wooden sticks. He couldn't see anything, but then the girl pulled his hand and pushed his body to lay down. The girl gathered some wooden sticks to be used as a pillow.
"Thank you!" Zixi spoke in a low voice. He had never imagined that the one who would save his life in a moment like that was a barbarian girl from Yue.
The girl said something. He didn't understand her, but he could feel her friendly tone.
It was the first time in his life that he had to sleep in a forest without a proper mattress in his royal bedroom. Zixi could not sleep, although he was exhausted
Only just before dawn that Zixi could fall asleep. He was in a deep sleep in the early morning when he heard some noise. He recollected his mind and recalled that he was not in his palace.
Zixi was still very sleepy. But his instincts told him to wake up. He opened up his eyes and dismayed to see the barbarian girl was sitting staring at him with a bamboo spear in her hand.
The barbarian girl was staring at him with admiration eyes that made Zixi blushed. Zixi was a handsome young man. And even in the whole Ying City, he was deemed as the most good looking man. He didn't expect that a barbarian would admire his good looking face.
Zixi smiled and was about to greet her when the girl put her finger on her lips and pointed a further north direction.
He turned his head to the direction and concentrated his ears. Some people were walking approaching them.
The barbarian girl took his sword and gave it to Zixi. Zixi nodded. He understood that the girl wanted him to be equipped.
Not long after, five soldiers came close to them. The girl with a fast movement used his bamboo spear to stab one of the soldiers.
The other soldiers became alert and started to attack the girl. Zixi came out from hiding place and helped the girl to deal with the soldiers.
The girl was a natural warrior. And after a while, she killed another two soldiers while Zixi also killed two soldiers.
"You little girl is a good warrior!" Zixi laughed.
The girl examined the soldiers. One of the soldiers wore a new uniform. She happily took off the clothes from the soldier's dead body and wore it. She also examined those soldiers' shoes and chose the best one that she could wear on her feet. The girl laughed happily. She offered another pair of shoes to Zixi, who was confused and staring at her.
He was a prince who used to live in a luxurious life. He had never imagined that he would wear clothes taken from a dead body.
Zixi had never met someone who could be so excited only because of a uniform taken from a dead body. Suddenly he felt a great stab on his heart. The girl killed the soldiers who disrupted her territory and took his shoes and uniform for her to wear.
She only took what she needed. She only took one clothes and a pair of shoes. She was contented with secondhand clothing and a pair of shoes that were too big for her.
He was thinking of his own circumstances. His nephews and his sons were killed by his second brother. The throne was usurped, and his second brother declared himself as a king. And not only that, his second brother even issued an edict to kill him and his other brothers. What had he done wrong? Was it a sin to be born in a royal family?
Since he was young, Zixi was not interested in politics. Therefore, he didn't bother to support his second brother, who had an intention to impeach the young king. Since his second brother didn't get enough support to impeach the king, his second brother decided to kill the king when he was ill and took the throne.
Zixi pondered. Perhaps it's true that there's only black or white in this world. He had to put aside someone and could not just be a neutral one.
Zixi and the girl were not too far away from the river when they heard some soldiers were shouting and running toward them. The girl took his hand and ran away to the river. Zixi followed her and ran with all his strength to the river while the soldiers were chasing them.
The girl pointed out a small boat while saying something. Zixi nodded and hopped on the boat while the girl pushed the boat and gave the oars to him.
The soldiers arrived at the riverbank, and they started to attack the girl while some of them tried to jump into the river to catch Zixi.
The girl shouted to Zixi while waving her hands. As if he understood what she's saying, Zixi row the boat further in the middle of the river. The soldiers who jumped into the river could not move any further. They could only curse Zixi and return to the river bank.
Meanwhile, the girl managed to kill another two soldiers. She then jumped into the river and dived.
Zixi had heard that Yue people could swim well. He was not worried that she would drown. But after some time, she had not emerged from the water. He became concerned. He stopped his boat and started to shout, "Yue Maiden, are you alright? Yue Maiden, where are you?"
No sound or any sign that she was still alive. Zixi started to desperate. Even a stranger who tried to save him was also dead now. Zixi sat on the boat and felt vulnerable.
Suddenly he felt the little boat was shaken. The girl emerged from the water and tried to climb the boat.
"Yue Maiden!" Zixi said happily and pulled her up to the boat. The girl laughed merrily. And took off her outer clothes - the uniform she looted from the Chu soldier dead body.
Zixi was shocked to see how uncivilized she was. Apparently, she hid two fishes inside her clothes and proudly showed the two fishes to Zixi.
Zixi laughed. Indeed the girl was such a childish uncivilized barbarian girl. She was not embarrassed with her soaked wet thin clothing that revealed her figures. It was Zixi himself who felt embarrassed about what he saw.
The boat roamed following the stream. Zixi didn't have to row the boat all the time. He was sitting quietly and observed the girl while she was busy gutting the fishes and humming some songs. She had a beautiful voice.
The girl finished gutting the fishes and took the oars from Zixi and started to row her boat to the river bank.
When they arrived at the riverbank, the girl pulled the boat and started to collect woods. Zixi helped her and handed the woods he collected to her. She looked very happy and started to make a fire to cook the fishes she caught.
Zixi could only observe her. She happily shared her fishes with him.
When he was eating, Zixi could feel that the girl was staring at him. He smiled and asked, “Yue Maiden, what are you looking at?"
The girl who didn’t understand his words said something in Yue language. Zixi didn’t understand at all. He was starving and devoured the fish. Although it’s not fancy food, he was contented.
For the first time in his life that Zixi ate without proper cutleries. He began to ponder, and what’s the point of those expensive cutleries and utensils. In the end, it’s the food that matters, not the packaging outside. He was amused by his own thought.
So I'm writing this story as I was fascinated by the poem Yue Ren Ge. I read quite a lot of books about the Yue civilization - including their famous king, King Goujian.
The Yue people were barbarian. Don't imagine them like in the films with their long clothes, and long hair. The Yue people wore short pants, with shortcut hair and tattoos on their whole body and faces (for man).