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Lessons From My Confinement

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“How deep a grave must I break to cover my regret.”  Taken from, Lessons From My Confinement, by Lan Xichen



    It was a beautiful day in Lotus Pier.  The sky was perfectly blue and cloudless.  It was a sort of unhurried day. A gentle woman wearing deep purple robes meandered through the market, picking up pieces of fruit to check for ripeness, trying to become inspired to prepare supper for her husband.  Her youngest daughter had been recently married and the lack of utter chaos was somehow unnerving. Even though the Li family lived in the very heart of Lotus Pier, the house was too quiet. 


     ‘Maybe braised fish,’ Li Yu Yan headed to the vendor’s booth that lay directly at the foot of the dock.  A small group of people had gathered as the days’ catch was literally taken off the boat and displayed in the booth.


     “They say that Zewu-jun has been in seclusion for two years now,” a young woman whispered, but it was the kind of whisper that was loud enough that everyone else in the crowd could hear.  Li Yu Yan recognized the woman as a gossip, but a reliable one, since she was a servant in the residence of Jiang Chen himself. She found herself taking a step forward to hear the rest of what she was saying.


     “Jin Biyu was to marry Zewu-jun, but he wouldn’t even see her.  It was a great embarrassment to his uncle Lan Qiren,” the woman said. Then, the gossip continued to other matters.  Li Yu Yan looked down at her basket. Without saying a word, she purchased one of the fish from the fresh catch and then picked up herbs and vegetables from a booth that was on the road back to her home.


     “Mei mei, what would you say to your son, if you were there?  How would you comfort him?” Li Yu Yan placed the basket on her kitchen table.  Her body moved on its own, drawn to the small carved chest in her bedroom. Kneeling, the woman opened the chest, removing books, linens, and keepsakes of her 30 years of marriage to Li Yuan Bo.  In the bottom of the chest lay a stack of letters tied together with a pale blue, silk ribbon.  


     “Mei mei, it’s time your sons hear your voice,” Li Yu Yan held the stack of letters to her breast.


“My sorrow was the incoming tide. Unmoving, I faced it and was overcome.”  Taken from Lessons From My Confinement, by Lan Xichen

     A month later, Lan Wangji noticed a stack of letters sitting on the table as he sat down to serve tea to his uncle.  He simply sat quietly, transfixed by the handwriting on the letters. Since he was a young boy, Lan Wangji had kept many examples of his mother’s writing.  She had spent many long days copying and illustrating poems, prose, and songs. Her whimsical illustrations were one of the few things that would bring an unbidden smile to the small face of her little Lan Zhan.  Certainly, there was no one in all of Gusu that had surpassed Lan Ying Yue in the art of calligraphy, not in her generation, nor to the present day. Lan Qiren followed his nephew’s gaze.


     “Wangji, you recognize the writing on these letters?”  The older man motioned to the stack on the table.


     “Mn,” the younger Jade of Lan replied.  A tumble of feelings and questions began to bubble up in the man’s chest.  Lan Wangji closed his eyes and took a deep breath.


     “Uncle, why do you have those letters?”  


     "Read the note that came with the letters," Lan Quiren pointed to a piece of parchment that lay next to the stack of his mother's letters.


     The note had only one line and was written in a different hand.  It said, "Don't let him make the same mistake as his father."


     “Your mother's letters were originally sent to your aunt, Li Yu Yan.  She lives in Yunmeng.  She asked a traveler to deliver them here,” Lan Qiren’s response was measured.


     “I did not realize that Mother had a sister,” Lan Wangji spoke softly, calmly, but his hands, clenched on his thighs, betrayed him.


     “Li Yu Yan was ten years older than your mother, so she was already married and had moved away when you were a child,” the older man explained.

     Lan Qiren stood up and turned away from Lan Wangji.  He clasped his aged hands behind his back.

     “Lan Wangji, contained in those letters is the story of your parents' courtship and marriage, in your mother’s own words,” He sighed. 

     "It’s time for your older brother to move past his regrets.” The old man turned to face him.

     “I tried to give him the letters directly, but, he wouldn’t accept them.  I want you to read the letters to him, one every day.”


     “Uncle,” Lan Wangji stood up.  For some reason he didn’t understand, his hands were trembling.


     “Please...Wangji.  If you can’t reach him, I’m afraid you will lose him, as I lost my brother,” the older man’s voice choked and he turned his head, lest his tears betray him.

     “Take them Wangji.  I want to meditate.”  His uncle waved him off.


     Lan Wangji knew the conversation was over.  He carefully picked up the stack of letters and left.