The jianghu* is big, and there is plenty to see. Two souls seated in a passing cart whose canopies touch as the horses trot by, smile with a song known since time began, yet others grow white on their heads, with no melody shared within. What use is there in many years shared in pointless chatter when a single moment of silence can contain multitudes? We promised to make every moment count, and I think that we have.
Fei Hong sits by the riverside, not caring that the hem of his emerald robes are getting soiled with not just the water but also the layer of grime that floats atop the surface. The letter is in his hand, half closed and he knows he does not need to read anymore. He has read it too many times everyday and he has memorised every word. His mind instead wanders the shimmering surface of the river he sees, hopping on the tops of the blossoming trees and dancing on the faint outlines of the mountains which were at least several days’ journey from where he was sitting. His sword is propped up by his knee, and his calves are aching from the day’s journey and yet, nothing seems to soothe the sting in his heart. He wishes it to leave but yet it persists like the lichen clinging to rocks in the beck of spring, and he sighs as he watches the first gust of wind blow forth the shower of pink peach blossoms fluttering towards the ground.
So, he thinks to himself, closing his eyes as he tilts his head back slightly, this is how it is going to be from now on. The seasons move like the spokes on a wheel, one after the other, and even as they trample upon the bones of a dead sparrow, they tremble but for a mere moment before they move on.
That was how it is supposed to be, the cycle of life and death is natural and not even the immortals of Heaven can put a stop to it. As a boy growing up in his temple, Fei Hong accepted that as he did everything else around him. When a passing plague claimed all but three of his fellow martial siblings, Fei Hong was just a week shy of his eleventh birthday. He remembered crying and then when his shifu assured him that they were all resting in lovely gardens awaiting their turn to be reborn, he could finally sleep without tears again.
And for the rest of his life, Fei Hong was convinced that he has already understood the meaning of life and death, and he felt a sense of pride at the calm with which he approached any deaths he encountered during his travels.
But then, he had met him.
Fu Weizhe. A man who smiled at every passing cloud, whose steps were as light as mist and snow, and whose voice carried notes that even songbirds would envy. Fei Hong did not like him at first. He was too noisy, too fast, too preoccupied with getting things done when Fei Hong preferred to be slow and steady. Even now when Fei Hong thinks of the sound of his name dancing upon his lips, he could not help but smile at the passing memories.
And then, the fear hits him. He has already seen the passing of three moons since the day Fu Weizhe departed from this mortal world. Three moons was not too long a time but every beat of his heart reminds him that the fourth moon approaches, and so will the fifth, the sixth, and so on and before he remembers anything, a whole year would have passed.
The throes of winter will thaw once more into the next spring, and the birds will be singing again amidst the shy blossoms of plums and pears peeking out once more from their buds of slumber.
Fei Hong stands up, ignoring the weight of the wet fabric pushing against his ankles as he walks towards the nearest blossoming tree he could see, the soft pink petals a stark contrast against the nearly black bark. A twittering sparrow stops its song as soon as it spots him arriving and hesitates before taking off, and as Fei Hong rests his palm against the bark, he shivers slightly at the coldness still clinging to it. He sighs as he closes his eyes, surprised at the stinging that continues behind his eyes. Fei Hong reaches to his eyes and pats the tears away.
Sighing, Fei Hong walks on further towards the third tree he sees, and right before he reaches it, he stops, his heart clenching in his chest.
Push on, Fei Hong, he chides himself, you’re already here. Don’t stop.
And so he pushes on and walks and stops as he sees the plaque he had carved out of peachwood, resting against the trunk of tree. A soft breeze blows and a single blossom is loosened from its branch and flutters downwards and rests upon the top of the still brown mud void of grass. Soon, something will grow here where he now rests, and Fei Hong pushes back the sob in his throat and holds a trembling hand above it before clenching his fist and placing his hand back by his side.
“How are you today?” Fei Hong asks, his voice thin and weary, grating, and hollow against his own ear and yet, he continues speaking. “It has been lonely without you, but I am doing what we wanted to do. I’m not telling you anything because you said you will see all of this.”
The silence that follows is interrupted by the chittering of the same sparrow that flew away when Fei Hong walked to the first tree, and a small smile plays on his lips and the sorrow tugs at his chest as he keeps himself from sighing. A part of him is angry at the bird for daring to disrupt the conversation he wishes he is having with Weizhe but, another one, a quieter voice calling out from his own depths, soft yet steady, wonders if perhaps, the bird knows and is trying to tell him something. The beasts of the world do see spirits sometimes, and perhaps… maybe…
Fei Hong shakes his head. “Weizhe,” he scoffs as he stares unblinking at the carved characters on the cut wood, “you know, there are many things I regret in my life but meeting you was the sole sweetness I would always look back on with a smile. I will never cry for you; you don’t need tears. Instead, I will smile and though my smile is nothing compared to yours, I guess it can help a little. But I am sorry I will breaking that promise for a while, I hope you understand.” Fei Hong feels his voice crack as he bites on his lower lip, and closes his eyes, letting his tears flow.
When he opens his eyes again, Fei Hong reaches out to a branch hanging just by his head and plucks a single pink blossom and twirls it in between his fingers, feeling the feathery softness of the petal brush shyly against his skin.
How unfair, he thinks, that you blossom and grow while my dearest turns to dust underneath. Yet, you too will die and from your death will spring new life.
“Thank you, Weizhe,” Fei Hong clasps his hands together and bows, keeping the blossom in his palm. “Thank you for the days you spent with me, for the tales you shared with me, for the trust you placed in me enough to want to breathe your last in my arms.” He stops when he feels his voice trembling and whispers the rest of his words. “I never was sad when I was with you even though I knew you weren’t long for the world. Please understand that. I…” He presses his lips and winces as the memory rushes back into his mind, of the last sighs of winter clinging to the earth, of the snow brushed away from the rock, of the shrill silence of the dawn as Weizhe lay in his arms, his head nestled against Fei Hong’s chest, his hands shaking and his breath uneven and shallow. Of the strength Fei Hong needed to keep his tears from flowing and to keep that smile on his lips as he held his hands and played with his fingers and pressed his lips to his head and brushed his hair, telling him that everything was fine and that he need to worry anymore.
“I love you,” Weizhe had said, and this Fei Hong knew in spite of the words being silent hushes from his pale trembling lips. He could feel it in the way Weizhe's fingers tried to entangle with his, and the way he pushed his head against his chest, and the barely audible groan left his throat.
“I know, I know,” Fei Hong had said, repeating it many times, unsure if it was for Weizhe or for himself. “I love you, I love you, I love you… I always will, don't be afraid. Rest now.”
Fei Hong remembered Weizhe’s hand reaching up to touch his cheek before it fell back down, slack and cold, and in that instant, Fei Hong could no longer tell the difference between the cold of the snow and the cold that had gripped his heart.
“I love you,” Fei Hong says now to the carved wood and the mound of brown earth, and smiles at the blossom in his palm before reaching to gently push it into the sand. The soft pink of the petals is a contrast against the reddish-brown of the earth, and for a moment, Fei Hong wonders if Weizhe thinks him silly for doing such an act. He never really was fond of all the sentimental poetry Fei Hong liked. “I love you, Weizhe," Fei Hong breathes, feeling a tightness in his throat. "You fool, you know I always will. Like the flow of the rivers and the turn of the seasons, that will never change. Like the promise of the blossom that returns to the empty branches, I will never forget you. Ever. Thank you.” He stops and takes a step back when he feels himself repeating, and wipes his tears away with his sleeve. "Thank you for everything, my love. Wait in the netherworld for me. I won't be too long."
By now, the wetness has already evaporated from the hem of his robes, and the sparrow has flown away once more. There is a softer breeze persisting in the air around him, and it tickles his neck, almost like the forgotten kisses of too many moons ago. The pinks and reds of the new blossoms send their scent wafting in the wind, and it tickles Fei Hong's nostrils and he stifles a sneeze.
As much as he loves flowers, pollen was a different story altogether. Weizhe knew that, and perhaps that was why he decided to steer clear of any situation that would involve flowers.
Like making it seem like he hated poetry, just so that Fei Hong would never feel the need to bring him out to see the blossoms every spring.
How accomodating. How very typical of Fu Weizhe. At times like this, Fei Hong wonders if Weizhe had actually done anything for himself. What if...
Fei Hong stops and draws in a deep breath.
No, he tells himself, it is springtime. The flowers are in bloom and the birds are singing. Fu Weizhe is where he will be happiest. I will not let my tears soil that.
As he walks towards his waiting horse, Fei Hong shakes his head and smiles. The jianghu is big, and there is time, and so long as the sun still shines and the mountains are tall, every soul shall meet again like the flowers meet spring.
* jianghu - 江湖, literally translated as 'rivers and lakes', which refers to the martial arts world of ancient China, the setting of most, if not all wuxia works. A well-known example of a wuxia work would be Jin Yong's "The Legend of the Condor Heroes".