East Asian Sad Romance

At the soft clang of a gong, Wenqi woke. Quickly, she proceeded to the backroom to groom herself. There were already several others.

It was the eve of the big day. Royal servants hurried in preparation, cleaning and setting up the furniture, quietly as to not disturb the resting harem. Faint lantern lights guided them under the still-dark sky. 

Passing through lacquered pillars, Wenqi caught a glimpse of the gilded decorative pieces being moved to the central palace.

The eunuchs were already in the kitchen, lighting up stoves and preparing the bulk ingredients. 

“Wenqi, Ziyu. You two go to the back and prepare the dough.” A senior servant barked, assigning tasks to the younger women.

The servants readied themselves at the tables. They churned out tray after tray of food. Each to be sent to the main hall for the later events.

The repetitive motion of kneading and cutting soon became tedious. Ziyu figured that a little gossip wouldn’t hurt. 

“I wonder what the bride looks like. I heard she’s from the Liang family.”

“The Liang family? They’re the most influential in the capital! Of course, we’re talking about the crown prince’s marriage here. Can’t have anything less than the best.” A young girl from another station joined in.

Wenqi grimaced a little. Silently, she continued her work.

“You think we’d get to see the wedding up close?” Another girl said as she was mixing flour and water in precisely measured portions.

“Who knows, but I hope we could have some of the leftover steamed cakes!”

Light gradually poured through the windows. Vague tunes of suona sounded from a distance. The high-pitched wails were blaring and obnoxious but always had a festive air to them. 

Wenqi’s group finished their shift in the kitchen. Moving on to the main hall, the girls marveled at the beauty of the palaces. Weeks of preparations had finally come to fruition. 

Large lanterns and long silk banners adorned the eaves of the roofs. Under the broad daylight, the splashes of red were vibrant and auspicious. 

A grand procession made its way from the eastern gate. A palanquin hoisted by eight men stood prominently. There were carvings of phoenixes decorating its opulent exterior.

The servants lined up to welcome the guests, standing by for the upcoming ceremonies.

“Quit rubbernecking. I don’t want us to get into trouble.” Wenqi whispered.

Ziyu was among the new batch of servants hired for the wedding. Enamored by the royal grandiose, they knew little of the callous cruelty beneath.

The crown prince stood waiting in the central square. The perimeter was lined with ministers and officials standing in ordered rows. Eunuchs beat at the drums as the procession drew near.

In the main hall behind him, the emperor and empress sat on their respective thrones. The concubines sat at the side, attended by their personal servants.

The palanquin stopped at the base of the stone stairs. The bride was guided by servants as she ascended to the square. A red cloth obscured her head. It was the same color as her outfit, as well as those of everyone else.

Under the master of ceremonies’ announcement, the couple bowed to the heavens and earth, the emperor and empress, and at each other.

With that, they were wedded. The festivities would soon begin.

Most princes moved out of the palaces after they wed, but the crown prince remained in the eastern palace.

Aside from the few personal servants brought from the crown princess’s household, more were assigned to her from the royal court.

“I heard you’re going to serve the princess. I’m going to miss you.” Ziyu said.

“We’ll still see each other.” Wenqi said softly.

“But I’m happy for you. You’re the only one chosen from our group.”


“I hope you’ll fare better being a personal servant than us who do chores.” 

Daishu stared vacantly as she was being groomed. Skilled hands applied white powder and rouge onto her skin. Then, they gently combed her hair into an elegant updo, fixing it with many jeweled pins.

“Wenqi, do you think brother would make it back?”

“Milady, General Liang will do just fine. The rebels were nothing but crude mobs of peasants.

The brass mirror reflected a delicate face tinged with melancholy. Wenqi’s reassuring words did little to lift Daishu’s worries.

Living in the palace was a tolling experience. There were many etiquettes and things to keep in mind. Daishu watched her behaviors carefully, fearing that it would affect her family. At the same time, she was concerned about her family’s actions.

Twelve years ago, Noble Consort Bai was executed for her family’s ties of treason. A once-great family wiped out under the nine familial exterminations. From elders to toddlers, none were spared. 

The most gruesome fate befell the patriarch of the family. Minister Bai was punished with slow slicing.

“Ziyu, look at this coral bracelet.” 

“Huh, working directly under the masters does have some perks.”

Years had passed since they first met. Favored for her shrewdness, Wenqi became the closest servant of the crown princess. On the other hand, Ziyu worked her way up the ranks with her physical competence.

Despite being in different departments, they spent time with each other during their respite. Sharing many moments together, they grew close. 

Wenqi never expected to gain a true friend within these walls.

“There were gifts for the servants at the empress’s birthday celebration.”

In a surprise, Wenqi took Ziyu’s hand and slipped the bracelet onto her wrist.

“Is this…allowed? What if your master finds out?” Ziyu said as she curiously thumbed the rose-colored beads embedded in the porcelain loop.

“It’s fine, trust me. It looks great on you.”

Ziyu felt a brief fluttering in her chest. Somehow, the air had shifted. Wenqi’s stoic face almost grew tender under the sunlight.

Coming to her senses, Ziyu averted her gaze.

The rebellion in the south was subdued. It was started by several militia factions led by Bishui Tang, a martial clan with a sizable following in the river provinces.

Shackled and caged, the leaders were brought to the capital. Riding on horses, the general led the parade in a triumphant bearing.

Several soldiers poked at a cage, jeering at the captive.

“Get your hands off of me, you filthy imperial lapdogs!” The man spat. “This is not the end of us.”

It was another busy time. Sounds of chopping knives and sizzling pans filled the kitchen. Groups of eunuchs marched towards the main hall, carrying liquor jars from the storerooms. 

Within the eastern palace, there was tranquility amidst the rest of the bustling scenes.

After months of anxiety, Daishu finally let go. Even as she could not participate in the upcoming feast, she knew that her brother was safe.

The court ladies were usually disallowed from meeting men outside of the court, including their families. 

Caressing her abdomen, she thought perhaps her family could see her child in the future. 

“Alright, we’re going to move these plants over here and make way for the rockery near the pond.” 

At the royal garden, Ziyu coordinated the renovations. 

“That looks nice, but the wide spaces at the side feels odd.”

“New year’s coming. Gotta spruce things up a little.” Ziyu was pleasantly surprised. “Don’t you need to be with the princess?”

“The princess went to visit her family. Only the servants from her household followed.”

“Look out!”

A potted peony hurled in their direction. Someone had slipped on the icy ground. 

Ziyu held Wenqi’s hands and dodged it with a nimble turn.

“Are you okay?”

In Ziyu’s arms, Wenqi looked flushed. She quickly straightened herself.

“I... I’ll leave you at your work. There seems to be much to do.”

Disastrous news struck. Daishu had sudden heavy bleeding during her stay at the Liang estate.

The servants and family were called into the court. Their negligence would be severely punished. 

Investigations revealed that a blend of herbs was mixed into Daishu’s daily medicinal broth. The formula was unique to the Xu family, who ran an apothecary business in the capital.

Being in charge of Daishu’s servants, Wenqi summoned Daishu’s entourage during the visit.

“You were responsible for taking care of the princess. Who instructed you to poison her?”

“No! It wasn’t me!” 

“Bring in the needles.”

A servant restrained the suspect. Another pinned her hand onto the table.

“Last chance.” Wenqi waved a needle in her face.

“It wasn’t m-gaahhhhhhhhhhh! “

The sharp point pierced under a fingernail. 

Wenqi twisted the needle against the cuticle, earning another scream as blood oozed from the nail bed.

“A servant-a servant! From the s-side chambers. Gave me some sachets, said to give this to princess, I g-get reward” The woman spluttered as she cried.

“Side chamber. Concubine Deng perhaps?” 

Wenqi reported her findings to the court.

As a concubine of the crown prince, Deng was possibly motivated by jealousy. Furthermore, her family had several marriages with the Xu family.

Despite vehement denial from both families, the evidence was concrete. The core family members were executed.

After weeks of intensive care, Daishu’s child was born prematurely. The toxin had severely incapacitated her body.

“The physician said I can’t possibly have another child.” 

“But milady, you’re alive, the little prince is alive. We’ve caught the culprits. When you get better, we can bring him from the nursemaid.”

“The emperor has given a name, Xiao.” Daishu’s expression softened. “Just as the spring festival in a few days.”

“I’ve ordered the seamstresses to prepare some quality fur coat, milady.”

That night, Ziyu visited Wenqi unexpectedly.

In Ziyu’s palm was a jade pendant, white as mutton fat.

“How did you get hold of something so valuable?”

“Don’t ask. Just-” Ziyu opened her other palm, revealing a matching lilac pendant. “I want you to have this.”

She slid both pieces against each other, interlocking them like a puzzle.

“Even as we are apart, we’ll always be two of a pair.”

Snow flurried like goose feathers, covering the dark red buildings in a pale shroud.

As dusk fell, lights from countless lanterns dotted the palaces. At the central square, the emperor stood in front of the royal shrine with a large torch. 

Rows of ministers and court members watched solemnly as the emperor paid tribute to the full moon. His devotion would determine the harvest of the upcoming year.

This was a festival of renewal. Wenqi watched as more torches were lit by the priests. As if they could burn away the stains of the past.

There was a burst, followed by a flash.

The fire turned into a wall of blaze.

Guards rushed to protect the royal family. Amidst the chaos, Wenqi made out shapes of fighters slashing through the slew of guards.

Where did they come from? There was no time to speculate. She felt hands pushing against her, seeking to escort Daishu to safety.

A lithe dark form leaped from the scuffling masses. Effortlessly parrying through streams of arrows and spears, it flew straight ahead at the fleeing emperor.

None could stop it as a sword stabbed through the emperor’s torso.

Ultimately, the military took control of the situation. Even as the smoke dissipated and the debris cleared, scents of metal and brimstone lingered upon the pavement. 

The aftermath was no less tumultuous. Thousands of servants and eunuchs were seized. 

It was discovered that Bishui Tang had placed undercover agents within the court over the years. Despite their defeat in the south, they had many branches over the empire.

The emperor succumbed to his injuries. The assailant was nowhere to be found.

White swept through the palaces and beyond. Everything from buildings to apparel was adorned with the symbol of mourning.

“Your majesty, we must make haste to destroy the rebellion remnants.” General Liang said.

With Daishu as the empress, the Liang family was more powerful than ever. The newly-coronated emperor complied with the general’s request for more military power.

Wenqi hid her distress. Servants were taken away almost every day for the ongoing interrogation.

She feared for the worst when she could not find Ziyu.

Clutching the jade pendant, she made a decision. 

Pain throbbed beneath her bosom.

Years had passed, Daishu’s condition deteriorated. Prince Xiao grew up with fragile health. In response, the Liang family sent several daughters to the court as consorts for the emperor.

Wenqi spent her time searching for Bishui Tang. She examined the patterns on her pendant and found subtle matches among the buildings in the capital.

As the empress’s lead servant, her responsibility proved difficult for her to explore covertly. Though with her influences, she gathered many clues.

She meticulously compiled an extensive mapping of the clan’s secret codes and a list of potential hideouts.

“What do you want to do if you could go out again?” Daishu asked. She had been feverish for the past few days.

“I don’t know. All I wanted is to serve you, your majesty.”

“I know. I don’t have much time left. How I wished to see the cerulean sky beyond these scarlet walls.” 

Longingly, Daishu turned her cloudy eyes towards the light. “Promise me, will you? See it for me when you got out.”

“I promise.”

Daishu passed. Her older servants were allowed to leave the court.

Wenqi glanced at the white fabrics swaying in the breeze. Once again, the palaces were cloaked in the bleak shade.

She quirked a thin smile. Perhaps only in death can one be truly pure.

Traveling to the southern rivers, Wenqi carefully observed the cities. If her information was not outdated, she could find the headquarters of Bishui Tang around these areas.

This place was vastly different from the capital. Unfamiliar with the local dialect, communication was difficult. Fortunately, the people here seemed friendlier.

There was always a mellow lilt in Ziyu’s accent, she reminisced fondly.

Eventually, Wenqi found her way to a dyehouse. With valid codewords, she was guided into the facility.

For a moment, time paused.

It had been years since Wenqi saw that face. Ziyu was spirited as always, with a more seasoned air settling on her.

“It’s you…”

Before she knew it, Wenqi was tackled by a hug.

“It’s really you!”

The pair sat by the bridge, watching as merchant boats drifted through the serene water.

“Was it worth it? All these years in the palaces.”

“Well, I only took orders from my clan,” Ziyu said while caressing Wenqi’s fingers. “but meeting you was worth every moment.”

“You might’ve killed the emperor, but there’ll always be others succeeding him. In the end, nothing changed.”

“Things will change. Jiang Dynasty is rotten to the core. We’ll recuperate our forces.”

Months later, Bishui Tang planned for an assault in the eastern valleys. 

For the first time in her life, Wenqi saw the true state of the empire. The prosperity in the capital was an illusion. 

The lands were wracked by years of drought. Corrupted officials hoarded grains as famine grew. Burgeoning warlords and militia strived against each other. Civilians were displaced from their homes.

The clansmen gathered at the woods, waiting for the signal from the fort nearby.

At nightfall, lights flashed from atop the gate. Ziyu and her team scaled the walls and slaughtered the patrolling guards.

“Fall back! Fall back! We’re being ambushed!”

At once, troops swarmed from all directions. Ziyu hacked at her vicinity but was gradually overwhelmed.

Desperate, she leaped over the soldiers, trying to vault the walls.

Her eyes widened. Troops were standing by beneath.

They were utterly trapped.

Captured alive, the clansmen were transported to the capital.


Ziyu was distraught. She did not see Wenqi in any of the prisoner carts. 

Wenqi dealt with the logistics back in the woods. Ziyu hoped that she had fled.

At the dungeon, Ziyu was stripped of her belongings. She thrashed as the wardens took her bracelet.

Eyeing her surroundings, she saw that the cells were filled with strong members of the clan. However, there were civilians further up, elders and youths among them.

Weeks later, the prisoners were brought to the town square for execution.

The Liang estate was practically overturned. The court found traces of liaisons with Bishui Tang in the Liang household.

Most crucially, a purple jade was found among the late empress’s belongings. It was a corresponding seal to the commander’s.

Evidence suggested that the Liang family had plotted the assassination years ago to secure their position within the court and military.

Under the midday sun, Ziyu was tied onto a pillar along with several others. For their crimes, they were sentenced to slow slicing. The rest were sentenced to decapitation.

A familiar face stuck through the crowd. 

It dawned on her.


Gazing at the lukewarm expression, she wondered if she ever genuinely knew about the woman.

Over two decades ago, Wenqi’s family met their end at this very place.

Aiming for more power, the Liang family collaborated with the Deng and Xu to falsely incriminate the Bai family.

As soldiers seized the Bai estate, Wenqi’s mother cast her into a cesspool, hoping that it would be omitted.

Wenqi hid for days until she could hear that the place was finally deserted.

She shambled into the streets. Dazedly, she saw familiar faces.

Those were her parents, siblings, cousins, and friends. All turned into shriveled skulls atop the city gates. 

A defleshed carcass dangled in the middle.

It would be years before she understood that it was her beloved grandfather.

Wenqi watched calmly. A lifetime of bile could finally be released.

She mentally evaded the woman in the middle. Even in chains, she was a blinding presence.

Wenqi heard a half-deranged chuckle, almost like a sob.

Her pupils narrowed. Something snapped deep within. Suddenly, there was only silence.

Wenqi saw Ziyu clenched her teeth. The executioner rushed to pry her jaw open, but her life had already faded.

Red cascaded from her lips, drawing lines on her throat before spilling onto her pale garb.

Once more, Wenqi thought.

The two colors mingled.

December 05, 2020 04:12

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Zinnia Hansen
17:47 Dec 05, 2020

Wow. Your writing was clear and evocative and your characters were interesting. Excellent job I was completely absorbed through the whole thing. My only suggestion would maybe be to introduce the Xu family earlier. The end feels a little disjointed.


Saizen 🦜
05:29 Dec 06, 2020

Hi there, I'm glad you find it interesting. So uhh, I was at it again with my unfinished story. It's completed now =) I hope the rest of the story would interest you as well.


Zinnia Hansen
06:12 Dec 06, 2020

Ah that makes so much sense! I am excited to read the whole thing:)


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Saizen 🦜
21:52 Dec 05, 2020

Author's notes: - Etymology: Wenqi - 文琦 (Wen roughly means gentle in this context, Qi means jade) Ziyu - 紫玉 (Zi means purple, Yu means jade) Daishu - 黛姝 (Dai roughly means black, Shu roughly means beauty) Xiao - 宵 (Night, also part of 元宵, the spring festival) Bishui Tang - 碧水堂 (Blue Water Clan) Bai - 白 (White) Jiang Dynasty - 绛朝 (A fictional dynasty) - Notice all the times when red and white mingled in the story.


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