IYUN’S pining heart couldn’t take it anymore… in the few days her charming prince left for distance lands.
Those few days felt like an entire season already. And the damsel desperately wished to feel her lover’s presence around her.
Even if it was just a passing shadow of him.
Today, Iyun decided to walk up the paths she’d walked down with her man. In a bid to visit the beautiful times they’d spent together.
The young damsel got up with the rising sun that quiet morning. And she walked through the grassy vale, and remembered her prince.
She walked through the verdant woods, too, and reminisced about their love story.
And then, Iyun returned where everything had started so beautiful. She walked through the neighbourhood path which led to the foot of the rocky hill where they started out together.
And the young beauty’s heart fluttered at the sweet, lovely memories.
But the fluttering didn’t stay for so long… before some feelings of regret took hold of Iyun’s wandering heart.
The damsel recalled that the walks the two had through those few paths didn’t really end beautiful. So Iyun began to feel so sorry for the many hard times she’d given her lover.
But just when the damsel was still chastising herself for her past actions, a sudden thought cropped up in her mind. It started out as an excuse, a justification to pacify the guilt.
I was angry with him only because he didn’t reveal his real identity at the beginning, thought Iyun.
But then, the young beauty remembered the sincerity in Àlà’s advances. And how much the prince sought to win her heart.
Yet Iyun knew in her heart of hearts that her excuse wasn’t really tenable. And so, the excuse became a question. A question with a pointed sword of blame.
‘Why didn’t he explain everything to me?’ she grumbled. ‘No, why was he too soft? He should’ve told me outright that he wasn’t the one at fault. He should’ve stopped me when I was needlessly getting angry.’
The outpour of accusations seemed to pacify Iyun’s guilt-laden heart.
She halted in her steps at the foot of the hill, turned around and climbed up the hillside to a considerable height. And she sat down on a fallen tree.
A thought suddenly struck her mind where she sat. But this time it wasn’t a justifying excuse, nor was it a blame. It was something for her curious mind.
The young maiden had thought her man was too soft and gentle, and too good for a man. So, she wondered if all Jaiye men were like that. She wondered if all Jaiye men were as gentlemanly as her own Àlà.
Yet, beyond the many thoughts that had crossed the maiden’s heart that afternoon, the one which came to stay was her curiosity.
Iyun had been curious about Koje people her entire life. But now, she was more curious about the men of Jaiye than she’d ever been about her people. Or even about her man Àlà.
The maiden’s mind wandered many miles on how to quench her new thirst to know. And the more it seemed difficult to find answers, the more desperate the young woman became.
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Iyun stared ahead into space awhile where she sat. And then, out of the blues, she muttered a desperate wish.
‘If only I can find just one man from Jaiye! Just one man who can tell me how their men are! Even if it is Shao, a servant to them… If only!’
And then, she calmed herself in a brief moment. It was her last words which brought about the instant stillness.
She had a rethink right then. Do I really mean Shao?
Iyun was pretty sure she wouldn’t be satisfied with seeing a mere retainer and asking him about the men of Jaiye. And beyond this, it dawned on her wildly spinning mind that her curiosities were baseless in the first place.
The crown prince is right before me, she reasoned. Do I really need to study other Jaiye men to know about the man who’s so plain in front of me?
Yet, Iyun didn’t allow the flower of this thought to blossom, before she plucked it out with another justifiable excuse.
‘I can at least learn what Jaiye men are like,’ she replied herself. ‘So I will be able to understand the prince better and be a good woman to him.
‘It’s like getting to know his family in order to know him,’ she said and paused to ponder.
‘And since I can’t approach the great palace,’ she added in a bit, ‘I can at least walk around the city and see what the people are like these days.
‘Maybe… maybe I can take a look on the girls there too, and see what more I can do to please the prince.’
The young woman stood up. She was ready to take the risk of heading alone to Jaiye right then. So far she could quench her burning thirst of curiosity.
The last time Iyun travelled to Jaiye city was several many seasons earlier, when she was only a little girl and was a handmaiden to a Jaiye family.
But now she was desperate enough to dare to trust a blurry memory of the highways to the great city. And journey there all by herself.
So she took the first step…
And descended down the heights.
The answer to Iyun’s wish came meeting her down the rocky hill. For when the young maiden got to the hill foot, Shao was right there for her.
Shao didn’t follow his master the crown prince on the emissary assignment. And that had left the palace servant idle. Idle enough to dare to wander as far as to the outpost township of Koje.
The young retainer had given himself the justification that he could spend quality time with his kith and kin in Koje, when he secretly made an escape out of Jaiye’s palace courts. And out to the free world and city of the Jaiye people.
But after Shao had aimlessly wandered through the broad streets of the open city awhile, he decided to rather follow through with his initial random excuse. He decided to travel on foot to Koje to see his own best kindred Iyun.
After all, he said to himself, his master the prince hadn’t allowed him sufficient time together with her.
So now, as Iyun came down the hill in Koje, Shao was right there in front of her. Like a miraculous answer to an impossible wish.
Iyun was speechless with excitement at that moment.
She thought. Oh my! Could the crown prince be here already?! The damsel’s heart leapt up in her bosom. And her pretty eyes were moist with some grateful tears.
Iyun had always interpreted seeing Shao to mean that Prince Àlà must be somewhere around and was summoning her.
The maiden’s eager eyes searched through the plains and mountains for her man. And in a moment, she hopped past Shao with an excited leap.
Shao didn’t bother asking where his cousin was running to. He could tell right away that Iyun was looking for her charming prince.
He turned around just then; and he called after her. ‘Hey, the crown prince isn’t back yet! I came alone. I came for you.’
Iyun’s eager feet dragged to a halt at once. She slowly turned back and her wandering eyes rested on Shao.
‘You came alone,’ she mumbled in a weak voice, her visage equally dull and wan.
‘I came for you,’ retorted Shao. ‘How have you been? Aren’t you happy I came? I searched for you all over the hamlet. I was told you are here.’
Iyun quipped instead. ‘Why are you here, Shao?’
It was clear the young maiden wasn’t interested in a cousin’s visit. And Shao could tell Iyun was only eager to see the prince. He felt disappointed. He’d made a two-day journey on foot to his very best cousin. But here she was, showing no interest in talking to him. No, he felt so hurt.
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But rather than sulk within himself, Shao decided to turn things around. He thought to tell Iyun why he was there.
‘I came to play with you, Iyun. My master isn’t around so I have the whole day to me, you know. I thought I should come play with you, uh.’
Shao’s cousin wasn’t interested still. Kidding around was the last thing to resort to for a young woman as her. Especially when she was missing her man so badly. She was sure Shao had come to waste her time.
Iyun was about to reject Shao’s offer, when the young man quickly added something else.
‘I’m not saying in Koje here, Iyun,’ Shao put in. ‘We can go to Jaiye and play all the way to the city. I can take you to Jaiye. I will take you to see the city.’
Right then, the young woman’s eyes lit up with some radiant brightness. Shao’s words were the very miracle her deepest heart pined for. It was the answer even her forlorn eyes craved.
She stuttered in disbelief. ‘D’ you say you’ll take me to Jaiye?!’
‘Even right now!’ boasted Shao, grinning so wide.
Iyun leapt up in an uncontrollable excitement. And Shao looked at her with eager eyes. ‘Come, let’s run away, Iyun!’ he whispered. ‘Can you dare?’
Iyun clamped her hands against her bosom as her face flushed red. ‘Aw, thank you! Thank you!’ she breathed.
Shao reached out a hand towards her, as Iyun placed her trembling hand in his.
And the two free birds flew off into the skies.
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