It was early in the morning and they'd all sat down to have breakfast. Mei Hua had forced a tradition on them all to eat each meal of the day together. Shan Hui was fifteen and the twins were five. The children had, somehow or another, been raised with a slight antagonism towards their Father and adoration towards their Mother.
"Old Man, let Mother come out with us today." Elder Brother Shan stated, rather than asking.
Jin squinted at his disrespectful son while spooning rice porridge into his mouth.
"Today is your Mother's birthday, we're having a party. I can't very well have you lot dragging her around the mountain side."
"Mommy likes hiking!" Little Yan objected.
"And she'll like it better with us!" Little Shi added.
"Aw, how can you say no to such adorable dumplings, Jin?" Mei Hua was silently laughing with a twinkle in her eye. "And if we leave right after breakfast, we can get back before the party. That's being held in the evening isn't it?"
"Hey, Old Man, we're not going to be gone the entire day. We'll bring her back before the party."
"Father, don't be greedy!"
"Yeah Father, only children act spoiled!"
After seeing that Mei wanted to go, Jin begrudgingly caved in.
"I suppose… we can go after breakfast."
"We? Old Man, you're not invited."
"Stay home Father!"
"We don't want you!"
Jin felt deeply wronged.
"But children, surely Daddy wants to come along. Isn't more the merrier?" Mei Hua felt bad for Jin. She wasn't sure why, but not one of her three sons bothered with affectionate terms with him and bullied him horribly.
Elder Brother Shan rolled his eyes. "The Old Man will be here in the evening. He could at least give us a few hours of your time in the morning."
"Yeah!" and "That's right!" came from the twins.
"W-well, but, Daddy has feelings too. Won't he feel left out?"
All three children gave her a "And so what?" stare.
"Mother, doesn't he get you every night? All he does is eat your tofu and roll in the—"
"Shan Hui!" Mei Hua cried out in alarm. "Be mindful of your younger siblings, please!"
Elder Brother Shan simpled 'tsked' at her scolding.
"Honestly, where did you learn to talk that way to begin with?"
"Mother, it's not that scandalous. I'm fifteen, if I didn't know that'd be more worrying. And don't I help guide the Merchants from time to time too? At my age, why would they hide the ways of the world from me?"
"What's 'ways of the world'?" Asked Little Shi curiously with Little Yan nodding in support.
"Er, er…" Mei Hua coughed nervously and then turned to Jin. "About the morning hike, I think it's a great idea—!"
Jin gave a small sigh. He knew he'd lost at this point.
"Watch your step, Mommy!"
"Mommy, don't let go!"
Two adorable five year olds were currently helping Mei Hua over a slightly rocky terrain. There was really no chance of her tripping, but she wasn't going to tell them that.
"Where are we going?" She'd held back asking this for some time. She'd thought they were just having a leisurely walk, but it became clear after a while that they had a destination in mind.
Elder Brother Shan quirked his lips. "I found something interesting a while back and thought you'd want to see it."
"And 'it' would be…?"
Raising a finger to his lips, he chuckled. "It's a surprise!"
"Mm… you found something all the way out here? Isn't this a bit far from home?"
"Mother there's nothing on this mountain that would harm me." He thought: 'Nothing would dare.'
"I suppose that's true…" Mei Hua muttered, feeling a little lonely. He was fifteen after all, and technically that made him an adult. He was as strong as Jin, despite having a frail looking body. There was not much that could harm him, and of course she wouldn't be able to save him from anything that could.
As they walked, she notice something strange. The area around here wasn't wild. Even though the undergrowth was dense, the trees themselves were grown in fixed intervals. And something about the rocky ground began to look a bit too even. It was almost like—
"Oh!" Her eyes lit up. "Is this the Blue Flower Village?!"
Her oldest son laughed and nodded. "Of course you'd figure it out, Mother, before we even got to it."
"So that's why Ye couldn't come…" Mei Hua said softly. She'd thought it was a little strange that he'd stayed behind.
"It's also why the Old Man wasn't allowed to come too."
"I'm not sure I understand—"
"He's been hiding it from you."
"What? The village?"
"En. Even though the Emperor gave him control of the land, and he could have brought you here anytime, he didn't want you to come."
"..why would Jin..?"
Elder Brother Shan gave a malicious smile. "Because he's ashamed of what it represents."
Mei Hua pondered this for a moment. Blue Flower Village had been destroyed by the Fairy Emperor. No one knew why exactly, but maybe Jin found out when the Emperor handed over his authority to him. He was the Representative of the Emperor and he had often had access to forbidden knowledge. But why would he be ashamed? What about him and the Emperor…?
"Ah." She suddenly understood and when she looked at her oldest son he gave a tilt of his head in confirmation.
The sisters. Jin had said once, long ago, that he and the Emperor had a lot in common. The Emperor sympathized with his plight and had saved him. Did that mean, just like Jin, the Emperor had been jealous of the Villagers? He'd taken them as a threat to his relationship with Xuiying and had chased them out?
Thinking this, she wanted to roll her eyes and smack the Emperor upside the head. Really! What a stupid fool! All that jealousy, and in the end he'd driven his sister out too! At this point she was probably dead. How could a mountain spirit stay alive without the mountain after all?
When she thought about the fairy sister, her heart instantly felt dejected. Xuiying had never deserved that kind of treatment.
Shaking her head slightly, she said aloud. "Your Father is being silly. Why would I resent him for what happened to the Village?"
"Why indeed?" Elder Brother Shan shrugged noncommittally.
He'd long since figured out that his Mother didn't realize the Fairy Emperor was Jin. At first he'd tried to tell her, but she laughed and told him the Emperor was a spirit. How could a spirit be a human? Jin had agreed emphatically with her, adding a plethora of other counter arguments to go along with what she'd said, and then dragged Shan Hui out of the palace for a serious conversation.
It was the first time Shan Hui had ever seen his Old Man genuinely furious with him. His Father didn't rant or rave or throw a fit, Shan Hui didn't even get slapped. Jin just quietly explained that some things shouldn't be said, and wouldn't be said, and then bore down on Shan Hui with every ounce of mountain's might. Shan Hui had never felt terror like he did in that moment; he really thought his own Father might kill him.
Shan Hui learned a bitter lesson that day: He was powerful, but he was the second most powerful. He could contend with his Father, but never win. Jin knew the mountain and it's power in a way Shan Hui simply did not. Barely a decade's worth of experience couldn't compete with eons. The medicine was sour and unpleasant, but he drank it.
So now Elder Brother Shan never talked directly about the connection between Jin and the Emperor. He kept his Father's secret.
Still though, the Old Man should just tell Mother the truth. At this point, she'd probably forgive him. She forgave Jin, so why not the Emperor? It wasn't that far a stretch. Shan Hui would be lucky if they fought and she left for a bit at this point. She'd likely just throw some things and cry and then they'd reconcile. Ugh!
Anyway, Shan Hui could find other ways to needle the Old Man without setting him off. This was one of those ways. His heart cackled evilly at the thought.
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