“Quiet, Feng.” Chun clasped the little phoenix’s beak shut with his fingers. “I said to wake me up, not the whole village.”
The little phoenix stared at his friend with bright brown eyes that sparkled like the sunlight peeking through the blinds of his window. The only window he had in his cramped up space. His bed was a single thin mattress over a hardened wooden floor, with an oil lamp and a basket where he kept his dirty clothes. His only pair of shoes were placed side by side on the right-hand corner of his room, resting beside a single green bag with faded yellow trimming and different colored patched sowed on to hide the gaping holes from many years of use.
Chun walked towards a barrel filled with water, scooped a handful and splashed his face. His raven locks dripping over his forehead and he stared at his reflection. Everyone in the village either had dark brown or amber-colored eyes, but Chun’s eyes were of the same hue as the newborn leaves in springtime.
He dusted off his old worn shirt and stuffed his bag with bottles of herbs, a couple of potions and a few jade stones. Slowly, he crept the door open. With his shoes in one hand and Feng perched on his shoulder, Chun tiptoed towards the back entrance of the house. The sun was just rising over the mountain range, basking the garden in the heavenly light that peered through the leaves of the trees. The grass danced in the wind, and cherry blossom petals flew off, briskly at first, but then slowing down like a snowflake on the eve of winter.
Chun placed his shoes on the ground, and he strolled down the garden path, over the small stone bridge which led to a bed of flowers growing near a stream. The flower buds had yet to open, while other flowers were looking dry and worn. Their colors had faded, and the buds weren’t looking too well either. The sight broke Chun’s heart.
The area then became filled with the hypnotic melody of the Jingwei that flew down to greet Chun. Seeing them trying to peck at Chun’s bag, Feng ruffled his feathered and spread out his wings to scare them off. The tips of his feathers sparkled like embers from a fireplace.
“Feng, be nice. There’s plenty for everyone.” Chun pulled out a jar of tiny bird seeds from his bag and spread them across the garden. The Jingwei swarmed together in a feathery blur of gold, red and aquamarine. Feng tried to break through the madness to get his share, but the Jingwei, despite their smaller size, poked at the young phoenix.
Chun held out his hand, offering Feng his own share of the food. The little phoenix ate until his little stomach could take no more. Once he was finished, Feng nested over a rock, curling up for a nap.
“Hey, I’ve already got one lazy bird to feed, I don’t need two.” Chun teased, but Feng chooses to ignore him. “We have to hurry, though. Sheng will be up soon.”
Chun poured the last bit of the Jingwei’s bird food into the bird feeder and tossed the now empty jaw into his bag before pulling out another a small vile filled with a white colored powder. He poured the powder on his hand and closed it into a fist. He blew on his knuckles and the powder in between his fingers emitted a yellow glow which woke Feng.
When Chun opened his palm, the powder had changed from white to a small shimmering mountain of green. Chun blew the dust into the wind, which spiraled around him like a gentle whirlwind before expanding above his head. The dust manifesting into tiny green and gold-colored spores, each one landing on the flowers. The closed-up flower buds opened up, and the flowers which were drying up were now vibrant and healthy again.
Chun’s chest swelled up with joyful bliss seeing the garden filled with life and color again. Even the blades of grass which had been bent and broken by the weight of one’s foot straightened once again. Chun stroked the blades with his finger, one of which wrapped around his pinky, tugging at him as he gently pulled away.
The sound of a gong boomed in the distance, startling the Jingwei, Feng, and Chun, who sprung upward in alarm. He sighed in disappointment. “You couldn’t give me a few more moments of tranquility, could you?”
Chun quickly grabbed his items and dashed back into the house. The flowers sang a wordless tune prompting Chun to stop and turn around. “I’ll be back this afternoon, I promise!” Chun called back, then chastised himself for saying it so loudly.
He hurried inside, careful not to slam the door behind him, while Feng landed on one of the branches of the tree outside. He then tried cawing in alarm when he realized Chun left his shoes outside. A trail of dirt led up from the mat to the door.
Chun hastily made his way to the kitchen and got to work preparing breakfast. The village gong went off a couple more times, which served as good motivation for Chun to work faster. Once the wonton soup and meat-stuffed dumplings were done, Chun poked his head through the kitchen window. Without needing to ask, one of the tree’s branches lowered down. Attacked was a juicy red apple. Chun plucked it, thanked the tree with a bow, and proceeded to cut the apple into six precise slices. After the final gong, Chun placed the meal onto the trey and waked to a red-painted door with yellow lettering on its front. Chun knocked once.
“Come in.” Came a voice from the inside. Chun opened the door, balancing the tray with one hand. The room was coated in darkness.
“Open the windows.” The voice ordered. While balancing the tray with one hand, Chun made his way across the room, able to move around without stumbling in the darkness, and pulled the blinds of the window.
The intensity of the morning summer sun blazed into the room. Chun basked in its warmth, while the man who sat on his bed hardly gave the sunlight a second glance. He was sitting erect, his hands placed elegantly over his lap, his lower torso covered by his velvet blanket, and his perfectly symmetrical face remained neutral. The drapes around the bed cloaked his body in shadow.
“Good morning, Sir Sheng,” Chun said with a bow and placed the tray of food on the man’s lap. He elegantly took the chopsticks and took the first bite of the wonton. He didn’t complain about the taste, or the presentation, which Chun took as a sign to relax his tense muscles.
“Run by me the schedule for today,” Sheng said after swallowing his food and dapping his chin with a napkin.
“Yes, of course,” Chun grabbed a scroll from the nightstand, unrolled it and read aloud.
“You have a meeting today with Mr. Ling regarding next months shipment. Your black stallion is said to be arriving later today, and you told Miss Jin Ruyi you would pay her a visit today.”
The corners of Sheng’s mouth turned up. For Chun, a smile from Sheng was no different than a shark sniffing the first droplet of blood from a mile away.
“I shall tend to Mr. Ling myself,” Sheng said, “You go into town to retrieve my stallion. Walk him, don’t ride him. Is that clear?”
“And if you happen to see Ruyi on your way into the market, please inform her that I will be at her establishment soon.”
“Of course, sir. Will there be anything else?”
“Yes. Did you prepare my robes for today? My business robes, in case you forgot.”
“I didn’t.” Chun walked to the closet, presenting Sheng the long purple robes with deep blue lining and golden beads dangling from the ends of the lace. Sheng’s shoes were also properly placed by his bedside, the exact ones he had requested Chun to polish the night before.
“Very well,” Sheng said nonchalantly, though the disappointments were evident in his eyes. Sheng was so looking forward to finding an excuse to complain about, but at the moment couldn’t find anything. Or so he thought...
Chun’s skin crawled when he saw Sheng smile again after taking another bite of his meal.
“Once you’re done with the dishes, draw my bath, and then wax the floors. I want the entire house spotless before I return.”
“But, I polished the floors yesterday.”
“Perhaps you should have thought of that before you went out into the garden this morning.” Sheng’s dark brown eyes shot at Chun’s feet. The young man’s face became red in embarrassment. In his hurry, he had completely forgotten to put on his shoes. A trail of mud and dirt led from where he stood towards the door, trailing all the way from the kitchen and the living room.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I will get right on it.”
“You better. Unless you want the new seedlings to suffer the same fate as the last ones.” Sheng warned, his voice like a viper injecting poison into Chun’s body. He nodded his head towards the drawer. Chun’s heart sank seeing the withered and torn up flowers from last spring dripping from the side of the antique vase, their dead bodies in full display for Sheng’s twisted amusement. Their cries drove Chun mad for days, and even now he could still hear their echoes booming in his head like the morning gong if it were right in his ear.
“Was I not clear, little brother?”
Chun’s hands trembled, fingers curling inwards to form a fist, but Chun tucked his hands behind his back, pushing back the echoes of the seedlings’ injurious cries.
“Yes, Sir Sheng.”
“Good boy. Now get to work.”
Chun bowed and made his leave. Once the door was behind him, Chun inhaled sharply to keep the stinging tears at bey.
Feng watched from the windowsill, the featured crown on top his head lowered in sadness as he watched his best friend wipe the sweat from his brow while waxing the floor. Feng wanted so badly to peck Sheng’s eyes out. The egotistical foam prince forcing his own step-brother to clean their family house like this was cruel beyond words.
The house consisted of three bedrooms, the kitchen, two restrooms, one with a bath, a dining room, one storage space which Chun now used as his bedroom, his bed which was just a sleeping bag on the wooden floor and very little belongings or space to even qualify as a room.
Lastly, one massive family room filled with tall mahogany shelves filled with scrolls, books and family heirlooms like antique vases, statues of silver stags, golden lions and white geodes that adorned the fresh lacquer wood table, draped in the finest and most expensive cloth.
Sheng seeped out of his bedroom already dressed for the day, having bathed in the mint-scented pils Chun had prepared for him. He adjusted the ends of his robe in front of the boy, no doubt in the hopes of making Chun envious.
Sheng was a tall, handsome, and incredibly fit young lad. He worked on his body as if it were a temple built for the gods, and he gave his face the same attention. All women in the village swooned and fawned at his feet. His thick raven locks which moved like the shawls on a dress when he moved, held high up in a regal ponytail by a priceless headpiece. His bangs swept over the left side of his forehead, exposing his mesmerizing almond-shaped eyes. If it weren’t for the humble mansion he lived in, he would surely be mistaken as a son of the Emperor himself.
By comparison, Chun was not only shorter but scrawnier. His body, though healthy enough, was covered in dust, dirt and grass stains that seeped into his ragged shirt, making it even greener than it should have been. The shirt itself had torn up sleeves and the lower half was in equally bad shape, the ends tied around his waist while the rest dropped behind his dark grey pants. Underneath the filth and dust, Chen’s skin was almost the same shade as Sheng’s, but it was clear he had spent more time in the sun than he did. Sheng often traveled with an umbrella shielding him from the harmful rays, but Chun was like a worthless plant. He craved the sunlight.
The oddest element of all was Chun’s eyes. Forget that his hair was as messy and wildly as a rat’s fur, his green colored eyes caught many of the villagers off guard for years before they grew accustomed to it. At times, Sheng could have sworn that green irised shinned like a freshly carved emerald stone.
“You’re working fast today,” Sheng said, smiling to himself in satisfaction. He knew threatening those weeds would whip the boy into shape. It always did.
“Thank you for breakfast. It was exquisite. I saved you a few dumplings.” Sheng showed Chun the dumplings and threw them at the wax-covered floor Chun was just working on, covering them in wax. Not only would Chun not be able to eat them now, but he would have to clean this spot all over again.
“Eat up. You’ll need your strength for today.” Sheng turned to make his leave.
“When should I expect you to return home, Sir?” Chun asked. His question made Sheng stop in his tracks. “Or will you be staying at Ms. Jin Ruyi’s establishment this evening? I feel I should be informed because I know how much you’ve been looking forward to seeing that new stallion of yours.”
Sheng looked over his shoulder, picturing himself smacking that disapproving look on Chun’s face.
“How dauntless of you to presume you withheld the position to critic my decisions, little brother.” Sheng turned, his robes and hair billowed. “Don’t forget, I am the rightful owner of our father’s trading business. The rightful owner of this household, and your legal guardian. Mother and Father left the deed to me. I am of legal age, and I shall do as I so please.”
Sheng marched towards his younger brother, his steps becoming louder and more forceful with each step, making the waters of the bucket ripple. Chun couldn’t pull away fast enough, the young boy hissed in pain when Sheng yanked on his hair, forcing his head back.
“Be grateful I haven’t thrown you into the streets along with the other rats. You’d be lucky to survive one night in the gutter of the Imperial City.”
“You speak of it a lot.” Chun strained, trying in vain to fight to pass the searing pain. “If you adore it so much, why not go back?”
“And leave our father’s business to the likes of a lowly, brainless boy like you?” Sheng threw Chun to the floor, making the bucket of water and floor wax spill all over him.
“You don’t know what I have sacrificed for this business. You think you are more deserving because you are of his blood and I am not? Perhaps I have been too kind to you as of late.’ His eyes looked up to the window, spotting a certain brightly colored firebird on the tree branch before flapping away in fear. “Perhaps some... cooked phoenix meat shall—”
“No!” Chun exclaimed, bowing his head so low his lips brushed the floor. “I’m sorry for disrespecting you, brother. I will not complain anymore. I promise.”
Sheng adjusted the collar of his robe and smiled to himself. “For now, I shall accept your apology.” He said, sounding slightly chipper, but not before he lowered his voice to an ominous degree, making Chun quiver.
“But head my warning: If you cross me again, I will not be so merciful. My generosity wears thin. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Sir. Understood, Sir.”
Sheng smiled at his own victory, grabbed his umbrella and walked outside, where a carriage was expecting him, driven by one of his employers and being pulled by an old worn mare, who he was planning on replacing with his new stallion.
Chun listened to the rolling wheels and galloping hooves until it faded into the distance. Chun caught his breath, staring crestfallen at the squashed dumplings now coated in floor wax. He pressed his hand over his chest to steady his heart’s rapid beating.
Feng, seeing the coast was clear, flew into the house and landed on Chun’s shoulder, nuzzling his feathered body against his human friend’s cheek. Chun couldn’t fight back the tear that landed on Feng’s fire-colored feathers.
“You’re welcome, my friend.”
Feng cawed to the window and in no time a swarm of Jingweis appeared. One by one, they flew inside, and listening to Feng’s instructions, they gathered the sponges and buckets from the kitchen drawers while singing a happy tune to lift Chun’s spirits.
Chun picked up what they were doing, and knowing full well how stubborn Jingweis was, he filled the buckets up with his friends help waxed the floor in the double the time it would have taken him on his own. Once the work was done, the Jingweis dropped the spongers into the buckets, chirping happily.
“Thank you, my friends. Thank you.”
Feng ruffled his feathers, which radiated with a golden hue, reflecting his annoyance. Chun chuckled.
“Especially you, Feng. You lazy bird.”
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Jessica ArrietaWrite a Review