Here’s the thing. I’m gonna tell a story. It’s the story of Beren and Lúthien, which you’ve probably heard before, but I’m gonna tell it in a way you likely haven’t heard before.
Once upon a time there was a human being named Beren, and he died, as humans are wont to do. That’s the beginning of the story, really.
He did not die a natural death; he fell in battle, but in those days that was common enough to be considered natural, among Men, and if news of his death traveled across the lands and reached the ears of any living kin of his that yet dwelt in the world, then doubtlessly they mourned, and named his end honorable, and celebrated his life, and then moved on, and he would eventually have faded into the annals of time, one more song of grief amid a world shaped by unnumbered tears, but for one thing.
That one thing was his fiancé, Lúthien, who was not a human being, but one of the Eldar, and therefore considered, for all intents and purposes, immortal. Diseases of the body would not prey upon her, and old age would never visit her, but it is the lot of those people that the evils of trauma and of grief weigh more heavily than they do upon the race of Men, and the loss of her love bore her down, and darkened her days, until at last she, too, died for the pain of it; as natural a death as might be had for one of her blood.
This is the point where I set the book down, and I assure you that this is not a story about death. There are many stories about death, stories that find their ends in tragedy and grief, in walls of fire and stone-hard defiance, in bold warriors who gave their all (but it was not enough), who burned themselves out in a defiant end or who were beaten down and went quietly into the dark, and even triumphant stories about death, where a hero’s death served a great purpose, and perhaps saved lives and allowed the light to shine on this world a day longer. Those stories are good stories, worthy of remembrance, and they have their place, even in happy times amid good company, but the story that I am telling today is not one of them: this story is about life.
For Lúthien died, and she went after to the Halls of Waiting, and there she stood before the Vala who rules over Death, and she wept, for death itself had not brought an end to her grief. And she did that which no one else dared: she begged a boon from the Lord of Death himself, and she asked him -- she did not threaten, or bargain, or lay down an ultimatum, but merely asked -- for the life that she had not been able to live, a joyous and long life with the man she would call husband. Such was her love, and the sincerity and heart with which she made her request, that Mandos himself granted her that life, with the understanding that it would end, and both she and Beren eagerly agreed, for would it not be death again, to deny themselves the joy they longed for simply because it could not be forever?
A life half-lived is existence only.
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More Untamed ficlets when I should be sleeping, yay!
Madame Yu hated the boy.
But if she were inclined to be fair, which she usually isn't, she would have to admit that it wasn't because of anything the boy himself did. No, she hated the rumors that his presence sparked, that her husband would disrespect her enough to have an affair with a woman who had rejected him. She hated the way that despite her best efforts, her children regarded him as a sibling. But most of all, she hated the way her husband looked upon the boy with more tenderness than he did upon his own children. Her own children.
It was far too late to get rid of him. Now that he had developed a golden core, to toss him out without teaching him how to properly develop it would be worse than negligence. An improperly developed core could lead to overloaded meridians, causing weakness in the body later in life. So no, she couldn't just kick him out.
But perhaps she could make use of him in another way.
Her maids packed efficiently, as they always have. The boy was training, and as such it was nothing for Yinzhu to sneak in and put a change of clothes in a bag for him. He would not need much. As Madame Yu wrote a note to her daughter, to avoid straining her constitution with worry, Jinzhu got the boat ready. Jiang Fengmian received no such note. He could pace a hole in the floor for all she cared.
By the time Madame Yu walked onto the dock, the boat was prepared and her maids were seated primly, a confused, sulking and soaking wet Wei Ying between them. She raised her eyebrow. Yinzhu said, "He was struggling, so I put him in the lake until he cooled off."
"I told you I could walk by myself," Wei Ying groused. "You didn't need to carry me."
Madame Yu's exact order had been for Yinzhu to pick up Wei Ying from training when they were ready to go. If she decided to interpret her orders entirely literally, Madame Yu was not going to take that from her. Especially since she had also ordered her maids to mind Wei Ying and keep him from annoying her as much as possible. They should get to have some fun.
The journey was peaceful. The river was slow this time of year, so the trip upriver was quick and not turbulent. Wei Ying ran to and fro on the boat but, largely due to Jinzhu and Yinzhu's efforts, stayed away from the shaded pavilion Madame Yu sat under. He fell into the water twice. Gradually, the river narrowed as tributaries branched off, and the water became the swift, clear white waters Madame Yu knew best, and the disciples driving the boat were forced to put down their bamboo poles and use talismans to propel the boat instead.
Finally, they stopped. Meishan Yu had one dock for trading, situated on a slow moving canal dug for that exact purpose. The rest of the river was too fast for any boat to stay docked for long and ran as wild and free as the people who lived along it. The disciples were given their orders, to wait for Madame Yu's return, and then Madame Yu and her maids took their charge into the mountains.
The hall of her grandmother was grand and old, although not as old as the woman herself. It was not a sect headquarters, not technically, but it was where most of the juniors were trained before they were sent into the wilds to complete their lessons.
Her grandmother sat in the central chair on the dais, with Madame Yu's twin elder sisters on either side. Madame Yu stopped a respectful distance away. Jinzhu and Yinzhu retreated to the sides of the hall. They would not be needed here. At her side, Wei Ying fell to his knees and pressed his forehead against the floor, as she had instructed him. Madame Yu bowed. "Popo. Da-jie. Er-jie."
"Ziyuan." Da-jie stood at her grandmother's nod, and took three steps forward, so Madame Yu was addressing her directly. She was the head of Meishan Yu. It was only right. "Why have you come here?"
She knew already. Madame Yu had sent a letter ahead. But now it was time for Madame Yu to make her case. "I have come to have this child trained as a Pearl." Beside her, Wei Ying gasped. She had not told him of the reason she was bringing him here. It was not his business. Wisely, he said nothing.
Da-jie sniffed. "You have two Pearls, Ziyuan. To have more is greedy."
"Not for myself. For my son."
Er-jie laughed. She had not approved of Ziyuan's marriage, but she had not had a voice at the time. "Your son is Jiang. Only Yu may have Pearls."
"My son is half Yu. The blood of the steppe runs through his veins as it does mine." He was not much of a Yu, to be fair. His anger was as quick as the river that rushed through the wilds, but he was timid in his decisions, too soft and slow to deviate from the path carved before him. He was like the slow rivers of Yunmeng.
Perhaps he should come here for training as well.
Da-jie considered. Madame Yu knew it would not be a hardship for her to train Wei Ying. The training for a Pearl was far more intensive than for a disciple, but Wei Ying had already shown a knack for learning and adapting quickly. And it would be a change of pace for Da-jie, who changed the training schedule weekly to keep from getting bored. Training a Pearl would keep her entertained for a while.
Slow as the sun setting behind the mountain, a smile crept over Da-jie's face. "One Pearl for half a Yu. Very well, Ziyuan. Shanzhu. Fengzhu." At her call, Da-jie's Pearls came forward. "Take this out into the field and test him."
Shanzhu grabbed Wei Ying by the back of his robes and hauled him to his feet. He looked upon her with eyes wide. "Madame Yu?"
She did not owe him an explanation. He owed her sect his life and she was going to ensure that life would be a useful one. But something in his gaze made her soften. She did not owe him an explanation. But for most of his life, he had not had a home. And now she was taking from him what her husband had promised would always be his. So Madame Yu said, "you may return to Lotus Pier once you have finished your training."
Wei Ying did not get a chance to respond, as Shanzhu pulled on his arm and dragged him away. But he looked determined rather than frightened.
Er-jie watched as they left. Then she slung an arm around her younger sister's shoulders. "Well. While you're here, why don't we renegotiate our trade contracts? I would love to take even more chilis and lotus silk from you."
"Xiao-Yan." Popo stood and took Ziyuan's hands in her own. "Welcome back, Xiao-Yuan. Come. You shall have lunch and tell me of my grandchildren, and then you will explain why they haven't visited me in four years."
"Yes Popo." Lunch was delicious, and almost as hot as she preferred it to be.
The trip home was quick and quiet, especially with Wei Ying no longer on the boat. When she got home, she was pleased to see that a-Li had not told her father where Wei Ying was, as she had requested. A-Cheng was grumpy but not worried, so she had told him, but Fengmian was in a state of panic. He clearly hadn't played enough attention to his children to see that they were calm.
He was not pleased when she told him where Wei Ying was. But in the end, he did not have a leg to stand on. As the Lady of Yunmeng Jiang, she had final say on which disciples she trained personally and which she did not. If she decided to outsource the training of a disciple to another sect, that was her business. Additionally, she could guarantee that Wei Ying would be fed, clothed, and housed while he was gone, which is what he had been promised when Fengmian had acquired him.
A-Cheng and a-Li both spent the fall and spring in Meishan for the two years after that. The year after, Wei Ying returned as Tiezhu and received Wuxian as a courtesy name, the same day a-Cheng received Wanyin.
Wei Wuxian had used his time in Meishan well, and it did not take him long to catch up with the other juniors. Fengmian named him head disciple, probably to spite Madame Yu, but even she had to admit that he had the skills for it. Wei Wuxian was better even than some of his seniors.
Fengmian stopped praising Wei Wuxian for his skills when the boy stopped reacting well to them. In Meishan, pretty words were meaningless, as ephemeral as the clouds in the sky. Fengmian had never understood that in all the years they'd been married.
Wei Wuxian was stronger than her son. He always had been, and he always would be. Madame Yu had always known this. But now, he was a weapon for her son to wield, a sword to pierce his enemies or a shield to take the blows meant for him. Now, Wei Wuxian's strength was Jiang Wanyin's strength.
Madame Yu watched her son grumble at his laughing Pearl, as a-Li fed them baozi. Her own Jinzhu brought her some more tea while Yinzhu stood at her shoulder.
Her son would always be protected. Her daughter too, if Madame Yu read Wei Wuxian correctly. And this, this was something she could be content with.
Madame Yu gets Jinzhu and Yinzhu (gold pearl and silver pearl), so why not Jiang Cheng, I ask myself at an hour past my bedtime? Tiezhu means iron pearl, but the (very brief, very sleep deprived) research I did said that 铁 tie also means weapon, unshakeable, determined, strong, and close, as in "always close to Jiang Cheng". I thought it fit but I might disagree with myself in the morning.
Oh, and Shanzhu means mountain pearl and Fengzhu means summit pearl. Probably. Feel free to correct me if those are wrong
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