Releasing a deep sigh, Yue used the back of her arm to wipe off the beads of perspiration that had formed on her forehead. The scorching sun shone down without mercy; the sky was devoid of any traces of clouds; not a single breeze blew.
Collapsing onto her bottom, Yue groaned in despair as she pulled her knees toward her tucking her head into her arms trying to block off the sunrays.
“Yue, here, drink this.”
Yue looked up and felt her lips pull back into a smile. She muttered her thanks before reaching for the ceramic cup. The cool well water slid down her parched throat, eliciting a grateful hum from her.
The one who delivered Yue her drink stood sheepishly by the side as his eyes glanced toward the other silhouettes around the paddy fields. His hair was pulled back into half a pony-tail, held together by a ribbon of light blue silk fabric. His posture was withdrawn as though he was trying to be as invisible as possible; trying to appear as small as he could. His eyes darted from the disapproving eyes of the outsiders to that of Yue’s.
Yue looked toward the direction of the other farmers, throwing them glares before pushing herself back up. She laced her arm around the boy’s right arm and pulled him into the shade of an oak tree nearby.
“Don’t bother about them. They know nothing.” Yue uttered hurriedly as she gently wiped the perspiration beads off the boy’s face with the handkerchief she produced from one of her pockets.
It had been approximately two months since she stumbled upon this community. Yue was not too sure how much time had passed because everything had her so confused at the beginning.
Somehow or another, Yue had been transported back in time; to a period so far back in time where China had yet to be unified; where Kings still reigned and wars were still abundant. With what little knowledge she had about her Chinese history, all Yue understood by now was that this was the reign of King Xian of Zhou.
After her fall from the mountain, she had been discovered by her mum; apparently she was trapped in the body of a girl from the past. Yue had spent hours staring at her own reflection – she looked no different from before. The people in this small cluster of farms recognized her. She was not sure if it because of chance or perhaps some greater being at work – they all knew her as Yue.
The boy from before was Wei and he was her brother. He was an outcast; a hermit; a freak – as coined by the other villagers –, someone that was cursed. He was indeed different from the rest of the villagers.
He was a genius.
He was too smart for this current era. What they took for mental illness was his exceptional skill of observation and curiosity. He would delve too deeply into little details – like how gushing water would be able to generate a substantial amount of energy to move a boat without the need human intervention. His mind was built for designs and innovations. What life presented to him daily was only engaging his mental capabilities in the smallest of ways.
However, the villagers were blind to his intellect. In addition to this, he had a very keen sixth sense. He had been the only one to realize Yue was not his real sister. He was the only one Yue could turn to for support.
He believed her.
He helped her to get settled in, and she told him about modern technology. They would stay up late into the nights; Yue rambling on about the inventions in the modern world and a wide-eyed Wei, intensely taking down notes and adding in notes of his own. Yue gave Wei her mobile phone seeing how there was no way she was ever going to get a signal this far back into the past. Wei had Yue dismantle the back casing and remove the battery and SIM card. He was mesmerized with how little metal sticks with spirals carved into their sides were able to hold the device together.
He was even more excited when Yue was able to play the little number of songs she had stored inside the phone. In the short span of two days (before the battery died out completely), Wei had learnt how to solve Sudoku puzzles and play Tetris.
As for Yue, she felt as though she was thrown back into school. Wei had brought her up to speed regarding the happenings of the kingdom; who was the current king; what was happening near the borders; which states were bordering on wars; what the Mongolians were planning. It was interesting, but Yue just felt that everything was just a little too overwhelming.
Their mother was another issue. She would constantly separate the two whenever she could. She would constantly ask Yue to help out in the farm or the fields whilst sending Wei off on errands in the market in the neighbouring town and the like. Yue could not help but feel resentful towards the older woman when she heard her complaining to the neighbours on how Wei was becoming a bad influence on Yue.
“So, how was it?”
Yue asked, closing her eyes as she leaned against the bark tiredly.
“It failed,” Wei sighed miserably as he sunk down into a crouch. “Again…”
“Well, isn’t there that idiom on how failure is the mother of success? Or something along those lines.”
“But! How hard can building a prototype for a water-powered boat be?” Wei whined in defeat.
“Hmm, let’s see… A few more centuries perhaps?” Yue laughed as she settled down onto the cool soil.
Wei sighed with mirth as he lay down on the soil next to Yue; his eyes glazing over as he watched the blue cloudless sky. Yue looked at her brother in awe – he was someone with immensurable intelligence and thirst for knowledge. He was a prodigy, so why couldn’t their parents or any of the townsfolk understand that or see that?
Wei sat up abruptly, his face tensed as he concentrated on something in the distance. Yue looked at the same direction, puzzled. And then the voices of men accompanied by the sounds of hoofs grew louder. Yue mimicked her brother as they both stood, brushing off the dirt from their clothes. Wei started in the direction of the village square, Yue following behind.
There, eight riders stood tall and proud on their white imperial horses as their commander strolled forward. He was a man in his late forties - his tanned face covered in aged lines and battle scars –, a battle-worn copper helmet shielding most of his forehead and ears, leaving only his facial features seen. His eyes were grim as he removed a scroll from his leather pouch hanging by the side of his stallion.
“In the name of his Emperor, the King, I bring news from the capital. Our border villages have been attacked multiple times, incurring high numbers of fatalities. In the event of an outbreak of war with the other states, one man from every family has to serve the army for a period of five years.”
Yue gasped as she grabbed onto Wei’s arm. Their father was too old to enlist; the next in line would be Wei - her precious little brother.
“No…” Yue whispered as she tugged at Wei’s sleeve, pulling him backward away from the crowd.
They kept retreating until they exited the crowd that had surrounded itself around the eight horsemen. Yue wouldn’t stop until they rounded a corner, away from the prying eyes or the eavesdropping ears of the other villagers.
“You can’t go!”
“Yue, our father is too old. If I were to hide away and ignore the conscription, our family and all our ancestors and future generations would be shamed.”
Wei shook his head slightly as he pushed himself off the wall. He stepped round the corner and eyed the horsemen, whom were handing out conscription notices to the other villages.
“Who cares! Screw the army! Why do you have to sacrifice your life, your intellect, your future! For a king who is unable to handle his own childish feuds?”
“Yue!” Wei turned abruptly and grabbed hold of Yue’s shoulders.
His eyes bore sharply into Yue’s as he shushed her up. He looked around their vicinity just in case someone heard her talk. Such words were considered a crime; treason against their King if they were heard by unsavoury, greed-fuelled creatures who were looking for a cheap prize. Sighing deeply, Wei pulled Yue into a tight hug as he spoke over her head.
“If I were to die in the next five years, please try and preserve my research and notes so future generations would be able to start off where I left it alright?”
Trembling against the bigger frame of her brother, Yue felt her eyes sting as she brought her arms around Wei’s torso. If he died, she would truly be all alone – in a world that hardly made any sense to her.
“The Fang Family.”