Her name was Cangse Sanren.
A wandering cultivator, a student of the legendary Baoshan Sanren. Well known from her time, not for her beauty, though she was beautiful. Many wanted to court her, while others denied their attraction. For such a wildflower, tame she was not, but a challenge she was. A flower, blown in the breeze, could not be easily captured, no status or wealth, power of one’s strength, could possess.
Yet, simply it was, for her heart to falter was none other than him. Most said Wei Wuxian took after his mother, but none had thought of his father. A steadfast dutiful man. A person with barely a name. Rumor had it, for decades even now, that the Leader of Jiang Sect had courted this unattainable lady, but in the end, she was stolen by none other than his sworn brother. How could that be, a servant no less, obtain what others could not, a beauty, though wild, still, she was the woman of the hour.
None had realized because they were not astute. Yes, it was the future leader of Jiang Sect, Jiang Fengmain who openly courted, but it was not he, who actually started.
One day, of a forgotten past, Wei Changze, Jiang Fengmain’s second in command, offered to assist his bosom friend to capture the attention of the woman of their heart. Actions aside, the quiet man may not be good with spoken words, but his written ones beg to differ. Not just letters, but countless messages from dragonflies, which floated to her side. Clumsy she may be, yet, this lady of her time wasn’t easily deceived.
A man, hidden from the shadows of another for all of his life, was now in her sight.
She coaxed, teased, and flirted, but Wei Changze’s loyalty refused to waver. Cangse Sanren, with no other recourse, unconventional others had claimed, pounced on this stubborn but faltered man. Plainly put, his chastity was taken, by this eccentric maiden.
Hence, such a stoic invisible person had become the man of the hour.
Disregarding, the blessing that was given, he stole his master’s lady, the world proclaimed. To this day and time of the past, such a gossip persisted. The pure love that was shamed, for no other reason than the status that was to blame.
A shadow of the past, wherever their child passed.
Today, with low clouds and a light breeze, Wei Wuxian took Lan Wangji to the most northern part of the Lotus Pier river, opening to a great Lake. His father’s hometown, but not too close to Lotus Pier. Much quieter than the southern river, full of activities, countless boats, endless festivities. His soft spoken father, unlike his mother, chose to remain hidden whenever they dropped by. A habit, but more of a consideration.
Although Wei Changze was a powerful cultivator in his own rights, his name was barely mentioned. In records nor word of mouths. A shadow figure, the right-hand man, Wei Changze, an existence to this day and time remained unheard.
In contrast, Wei Wuxian was not given such a path upon his arrival at Lotus Pier. Others’ rumors were that it was all due to Uncle Jiang’s love for the woman he was unable to court. None had actually paid much attention to the brotherly bond, beyond romance that could not be said.
As Wei Wuxian took in the familiar surrounding, a particular memory rose. His parents had brought him here that early winter, Wei Wuxian recalled. They took shelter beyond the riverside. An old traveler’s hut, protected from the elements, because his father was injured from a night hunt at the time. When his mother was away searching for medicinal herb, a man in purple arrived.
He did not speak nor made a sound because he didn’t want to wake the person resting near the heat of the fire. The young Wei Wuxian, even as a child knew, intuitively, the gentle person meant no harm. He would touch his father’s wrist ever so often and nursed his father like his mother did. The man in purple with lotus embroidery would always depart before she returned, leaving lotus seeds candies to the child who was easily bribed.
Every day, that winter’s month he would bring back various sweets to appease someone’s tongue. All for the opportunity to stay at that person’s side. That child, in that hut, was too young to realize what those long gazes and lingering touches meant at those times.
Simple acts. No words needed to be spoken. Even if that person left, the other still wants to keep a part of them. Later, the following year, that man took great care to find the bloodline of the one he truly cherishes.
Uncle Jiang...Wei Wuxian’s mind spoke.
But...all was in the past, no one would have known. Clearly, they were all wrong, most notably Madame Yu. A secret that would have been kept to the end of time, finally realized by the youth who had passed his prime.
Lan Wangji’s voice pulled him, that child from his reverie.
“Huh…” Wei Wuxian barely reacted, but Lan Wangji had already grabbed onto his wrist and checked his pulse.
“You know, I doubt my condition would change every incense burn,” Wei Wuxian teased, but Lan Wangji still ignored him and proceeded to concentrate. Even on their boat outing, the other man never ceased worrying, however, the patient had grown accustomed to their routine. Although a part of him feared he could not live without.
“Uncle Jiang didn’t love my mother,” Wei Wuxian felt the need to declare, yet he wasn’t sure why.
“He did not,” Lan Wangji acknowledged without hesitation.
“Lan Zhan...Yo-You knew?” Wei Wuxian was perplexed. “How?”
He answered matter - of factly, “You told me.”
Did he now?
Wei Wuxian had to wonder how HanGuang Jun always had the ability to deduce his past and present with words spoken without much thought. He speaks because he’s nervous, he speaks because he felt he had to. There were times he spoke just so he wouldn’t feel alone. Over time, these countless stories are from those who are here no more.
Even he, Yiling Laozu had become just a legend. A legend which he shall remain.
Wei Wuxian smiled, which made the one beside him alert. He likes talking to this man, not because he’s nervous, nor because he had to. He wanted to share what he had come to realize long ago.
“Lan Zhan, let me tell you a story…”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the lotus lake…someone was clinging to the side of the boat. To be exact, he’s been hurling for quite some time. This unfortunate rabbit was not accustomed to the waves that happened to be stronger than the last time he was here. If the boat was moving, it wouldn’t have been so terrible, but the problem is, they had to hide behind the floating vegetation. With no horizon for him to focus on, the waves continued to torment his churning stomach.
“Lan Sizhui, why are you even on this boat if you’re going to spend all your time throwing up?” Jin Ling frowned.
“Leave him alone, he’s trying to adapt, can’t you tell?” Lan Jingyi snapped back.
Jin Ling scowled, “This is not a good time to cure his seasickness.”
Lan Jingyi rolled his eyes. “We’ve been observing the past incense, and like I told you your plan was botched. Nothing is happening, so why can’t we just go back already?”
“Didn’t you say Lan Sizhui needed to cure his illness?” Jin Ling shot back, “Besides, I paid good money for it. I am not leaving until I see the result.”
“You do that, we will be leaving!” Lan Jingyi grabbed onto Lan Sizhui.
“No!” Lan Sizhui pulled back from Lan Jingyi. Shaking his head profusely, he assured, “I’m fine now.”
Eyes widened Lan Jingji said, “You’re already blue.”
“There’s nothing left in my stomach,” Lan Sizhui forced a smile.
“That’s why you’re blue,” the young Leader of Jin Sect added.
Lan Sizhui shook his head again, “I can’t go yet, my fath--I mean HanGuang Jun and Senior Wei aren’t making much progress. Senior Wei might not come back to Gusu...and if that happens HanGuang Jun will be the way he was...”
It’s probably due to hurling for the past incense, more than his emotional state, but Lan Sizhui looked like he was about to tear up. The two other youths, his brother in arms, in good time and bad, were left speechless. For the first time Lan Sizhui managed to defuse the situation between the bickering friends without physical force.
“Here.” Jin Ling handed him a sachet. “Those should help your stomach.”
Lan Sizhui tentatively checked the content, inside, they are candied lotus, with a scent of ginger. Relieved in his eyes by the near sight of them, he quickly pops a few in his mouth, barely taking a bite, when Lan Sizhui hears a loud curse, from the voice they all knew too well, but not the voice they wish to hear.
Panicking is an understatement, when all three youths stood up from their hiding place, staring straight to the direction of the sound not fair from the one they targeted. Lo and behold, the boat that Jiang Sect leader is now beginning to sink. But he’s not alone, Wen Qing, Lan Sizhui’s aunt, stood up in surprise as well.
“Gugu!” Lan Sizhui cried in fright, but his sudden movement nearly caused him to faint back into the boat, if not for his fear of Wen Qing’s well being.
“No no no! Why is Jiujiu’s boat sinking?” Jin Ling also cried, but more in frustration. Again, his Jiujiu had managed to ruin his plans again.
Lan Jingyi barked, “You idiot! Why would you pay to have his boat sink?”
“How would I know he chose that boat?” Jin Ling growled under his breath, until reaching a more valid conclusion. “The guy I hired must have sabotaged the wrong boat.”
Still, Lan Jingyi never stopped blaming Jin Ling at any opportunity he could. “Can’t you do one thing right?”
“Can’t you do anything at all?”
“We should go save them!” The guilt-ridden Lan Sizhui was about to take flight on his sword, but was instantly held back by the other two, both grabbed onto his arms. His sword was also immediately snatched away.
“You can’t. Then they’ll know it's us,” Lan Jingyi warned, half glad Lan Sizhui, with his weakened state, he couldn’t use brute force to shake them off as usual. To this day, he still doesn’t know what HanGuang Jun fed his Lan Sizhui to make him so strong.
Unable to break free, Lan Sizhui pleaded, “But, my Gugu can’t swim well.”
“She’s not alone, besides all Jiang men can swim.” Jin Ling reminded, “Lan Sizhui, you’re so weak you can hardly stand. The first one to fall into the lake is you.”
“Sizhui, do you want the Angry Lotus to punish us?” Lan Jingyi queried.
“What did you call my Jiujiu?” Jin Ling snarled.
“Don’t get snappy with me,” Lan Jingyi snickered, “Everyone calls him that.”
“Not in front of me, they don’t.” Jin Ling's protective instinct for his blood grew into anger. "Apologize!” He demanded.
Moving closer, the two came face to face, with Lan Sizhui secured in their grasp. The partners in crime were back to bantering loudly without regard to their now exposed location. Luckily for them, their voices were carried away by the wind from the slow sinking boat, never reaching the ears of the Angry Lotus from the other side.
Jiang Cheng never had luck with women. Even as children, females are often drawn to Wei Wuxian like moths to fire, leaving the future Jiang Sect Leader to accept his fate. He may not be like his father, but in this aspect, he is definitely his father’s son. A belief so strong, he never thought he could have the chance with Wen Qing, especially when one already failed so many times, even more embarrassing than Wei Wuxian’s cluelessness.
But since taking Wei Wuxian advice, he tries, whether or not if luck is on his side.
It was supposed to be perfect, even Wei Wuxian helped him convince Wen Qing to go out on the Lake today. And also taking care to stay behind with HanGuang Jun for the next available boat, so they could be alone.
As they passed different parts of Lotus Pier, taking pointers from Wei Wuxian, Jiang Cheng told her stories about their childhood, and their antics. Although Wen Qing couldn’t speak, she was lively with her expression. Beautiful, despite the years, barely an autumn season had passed from her ageless features. Drugged, enraptured by her beauty, and the gentle smile which never ceased to warm his heart, Jiang Cheng didn’t realize the terrible situation they were in until Wen Qing’s alarm face snatched him from the clouds.
The boat is sinking!
Without his sword, Jiang Cheng could not take flight in the middle of the great lake. There was no other recourse, he knew what had to be done. The Leader of Jiang Sect in a humiliating situation, with the safety of the Lady of his heart to consider, he could only do the one thing he dreads. Turning towards the only other boat in the Lake nearby, to his nemesis more than friend, mortal rival from the generation before even now. The prideful Lotus shouted for help…