Thursday, 10 December 2015

"Yearning Lady Playing the Zither" - a Chor Lau Heung 1984 fanfiction

A scene from Ep 27 where Song Siu Ching played the zither after stomping out of a conversation with Chor Lau Heung, and said wandered was forlornly listening to the melody, plus the hypothetical scene afterwards. Watch it with the scene below for better effects. As usual, the fanfiction is dedicated to Michael Miu and Barbara Yung. I don’t own any of the characters; Gu Long and TVB Hong Kong do.

Yearning Lady Playing the Zither

It had been a while since he heard music flowing from the zither chamber inside the boat, such that Chor Lau Heung felt as if it was his adopted sister Sung Tim Yi who was playing right now. Yet, of course the wanderer knew better. Tim Yi, So Yung Yung, Li Hung Chao and Wah Jan Jan were kidnapped a while ago, and he hadn't been able to trace their whereabouts.

Nay, the fingers that danced through the zither strings right now weren't Tim Yi's. They were Siu Ching's, the girl who had been haunting his mind as of late. Give and take the last few months since he met her that very fine afternoon in an inn, which seemed like a life time ago. Slowly walking the Fragrant Boat deck, Lingering Fragrance sighed and caressed a strand of his own hair. Song Siu Ching didn't have Tim Yi's excellence in music, but the former was surprisingly good with the zither. Lau Heung never heard Siu Ching playing a musical instrument before, so he was a bit surprised to learn that she was a good player. He shouldn't really be surprised though, the girl would have taken some meaningful musical lessons back at the palace, given that she was actually Princess Wing Ching, the only princess the empire had. Yet, despite the crystal clear notes she played, Lingering Fragrance detected an unmistakable yearning, longing, infused in the melody.

He glanced at the zither chamber for a while before exhaling and turning his attention to the horizon. He understood why the melody was so longingly played. He felt the same yearning for the girl, yet he couldn't see how he just could walk into the chamber and embrace her, telling her what she had been longing to hear. What he'd always wanted to whisper to her ears. Nay... He took the Princess to his boat to protect her from danger, not to court her. He'd specifically ask permission from Inspector Ying and Au-Yeung Fei for that purpose, not that he actually needed to do that. Both Royal warriors trusted that he'd guard the Princess with his life, if it comes to that. But somehow Chor Lau Heung felt he needed to declare that his intentions towards the Princess were honourable, and he harboured no personal agenda towards her.

No personal agenda, yeah right... He looked at the zither chamber again. He couldn't see Siu Ching playing there, but he knew she was so absorbed in the music that she might not notice if he entered the chamber. Did the Princess know how hard it would be to be so close to her, yet not being able to hold her as he wished to? Did she know how he wished she'd stop looking at him in such a longing fashion, for it almost breached his defence? Oh, how he wished he never knew that she was a royalty. How he wished she was not the Princess. Had that been the case, he'd taken her away already now to exotic places she never visited. She would smile at the beautiful sceneries, she'd laugh at his jokes, and perhaps she'd blush as he picked flowers for her and pinched her chin. 

Oh, how he longed to hear her laughters again. Yet, he told her the truth when he said he wasn't in a mood to teach her fishing. Too many things had happened as of late that he didn't feel like fishing or having fun. The Kam Brothers died and Mrs Kam was blind due to his misjudgement. How he wished he could take those moments back, the moment he responded to their attacks in kind. How he wished he'd sat down and think through the matter carefully, instead of rushing to confront the Kams. How he wished Zo Hing Hau had never promised the Duke anything... How he wished his old friend was still alive, that he didn't have to kill him with his own hands, despite it being an accident...

How he wished, how he wished, how he wished...

All these pains he wanted to share with Siu Ching. He knew she'd listen attentively and try her best to comfort him. But he couldn't do that. He was in such a state now, such a raw emotional state, that he wouldn't guarantee what he'd do, as a normal man, if Siu Ching started to look deep into his eyes with those big eyes of hers. Would he hug her? Yes he'd like to. Would he kiss her? Heaven, he'd want to. He desired her the way she desired him, or perhaps even more. But he just couldn't. He was too raw now, and he'd promise to protect her. Not to court her. Not to kiss her. Hence his avoiding responses as she yet again asked him about their relationship. Hence her screaming, "Not your old excuses again!" and stomping away into the boat.

But now, listening to the longing melody flowing from the zither chamber, he realised that he missed her; his Siu Ching. True, he missed his adopted sisters too. He did wish Tim Yi was here to play him some music. He missed Yung Yung's sound counsel too... She might have been able to prevent him rushing to the Kams with her common sense. Hung Chao might be able to devise a plan to find out the truth behind the enmity between the Kams and General Wang without bloodshed... Yes, he missed his adopted sisters so much. But he also missed the annoying girl who had stolen his heart months ago. That girl was within reach, but he just didn't know how to walk the large social and emotional gaps between them.

What did Yat Dim Hung say about love the other day? “To those who are truly in love, background means nothing at all”? That love would conquer all? What nonsense. Fell Cut could say that because he wasn't courting a princess. Although Chor Lau Heung used to be jealous with the former assassin, his jealousy immediately evaporated upon learning about the real nature of the Princess's association with Fell Cut. Therefore, he had little reservation to converse with Dim Hung when the latter asked him about his relationship with Miss Song. He didn't deny when the brooding assassin, now a newborn monk, insinuated that what happened between Lingering Fragrance and Miss Song was actually, as it always had been, love. He didn't deny that; yet he also spoke of truth when he said he'd just take things as they came and face whatever fate presented him.

Well, now, it seemed fate presented him with some unexpected days of recluse with Siu Ching, alone in his boat. He never brought in women into his boat; not women that he was physically and/or mentally attracted too. People were always jealous about him surrounded by three belles; but truth be told: he truly treated his adopted sisters like siblings. But with Siu Ching, for the first time since he knew her, he was alone with her in his private boat. He was never truly alone with her beforehand; there were always other people, either his adopted sisters, Wu Tit Fa, or Inspector Ying (who sometimes would act as a chaperone instead of a personal guard to Siu Ching). And yet, as Chor Lau Heung found himself alone with the Princess now, he couldn't do anything remotely romantic with her, within decorum of course. She was the Princess he was supposed to protect. And indeed, that was his intention.

But he couldn't just let her drown in her yearning and sorrow, could he? They'd have to converse sooner or later, preferably sooner. But then what should he say? "Sorry, I didn't mean to be so nonchalant about our relationship"?

Tentatively, Chor Lau Heung approached the boat chamber and drew the shell curtains aside. He allowed himself some quiet moments before he stepped into the zither chamber, for from where he stood, he was already able to see Siu Ching immersing herself in her zither play.

He never saw her playing a zither before, and this view was beautiful.


"Siu Ching."

She looked up. So absorbed she was with her own music and her memories of Chor Lau Heung that she didn't realise that her object of affection and yearning was already entering the chamber. She stopped playing; her fingers just hovered over the zither strings. 

"You played well," Chor Lau Heung approached her with a smile. Try as she might, she couldn't return the smile. She tried, but instead of smiling, two drops of tears suddenly spilled from her eyes. She blinked her eyes furiously, for she didn't want to be seen crying. Not at this stage.

"Thanks." Hence her short reply, as she studied the zither in front of her. "Tim Yi has a good zither."

"You think so?" Still smiling, Lingering Fragrance sat next to Siu Ching. He absentmindedly caressed the zither strings, although he truly wished he could caress the player's fingers instead, the way he caressed her during their first chess play months ago. "I bought this zither when she turned 15," he continued. "She had always shown interest in music, so when she was little, I introduced her to a zither teacher in the upper Yellow River region. When I finally replaced her old zither with this one, she was very happy. We had a week of nonstop music every night that week." He smiled as he reminisced on his memories with the girls, but then he stopped as he saw cloud hovering over Siu Ching's already forlorn face. He sighed. 

"Siu Ching... I truly see the three ladies as my adopted sisters. I took care of them since they were very young. We had gone through so many things together, such that they hold a dear place in my heart. Yet..." He turned to face the girl, who was now studying the wooden boat floor industriously. "- my heart is wide enough for many types of affection. I have within me my affection for my adopted sisters. I also have my camaraderies with my dear friends; Wu Tit Fa, Fell Cut, and the late Zo Hing Hau. I have a place for general compassion to elderly ladies I often saw in my travels toiling in paddy fields. And I..." He looked down at Siu Ching's fingers, currently folded against each other on her lap. He gently took her hands into his palms, letting them settling there, noticing how she trembled slightly in his touch. After a pause, he resumed,

"...and I also have within me a spot, a space, for a lady who I knew would come to me one day. She would seep into my heart unexpectedly, and she'd stay there." She lifted her head and looked at him, her expression uncertain. "Yet then I learned that she was the country's precious gem... And I am now at loss at what to do with that knowledge. All I know is that I treasure her so much that the mere thought of her being hurt just hurts me so." Siu Ching blinked, two more drops of tears fell on her rosy cheeks. He longed to wipe those tears with his thumbs, but he had to finish what he wanted to say. 

"Siu Ching, I understand you're disappointed with me. To you, I must look so indecisive and uncertain, or at least so nonchalant about what happens between us. You might think that I play around with your feelings for me. But... Truth be told, I'm truly not sure how to approach this matter. How to live my life with you."

This time, the girl broke her silence. "I told you before, Chor tai-gor, that I'd leave my rank for you if need be."

Lingering Fragrance smiled and squeezed her hands. "For that I'm thankful. But, only if your father approves of our relationship, and -" he quickly added before Siu Ching had the chance to say that his father would approve, " - that remains to be seen. Then, what if he asks me to stay with you in the Palace? Considering you’re the sole heiress of the empire? I can't just take you away from His Majesty and expect him to find another heir? You know for sure how bad it would be for the country if your uncle or his sons rule the country. I can't let that happen. Neither can you, I bet."

Siu Ching was by nature a stroppy girl. Yet, months of spending time with her had taught Chor Lau Heung that she had learned to heed to sound advice. Sometimes he had to harshly remind her of her responsibility, just like what he did before he left to confront Zo Hing Hau. At that time, he stopped his lecture as he saw that Siu Ching finally understood his points. This time, he didn't have to go that far. Siu Ching looked at him with those big eyes of hers before slowly withdrawing her hands.

"I suppose... Asking you to stay with me in the palace is futile?" She whispered almost to herself after a long pause. 

Chor Lau Heung shook his head almost forlornly. "I can't imagine myself living in such a place, Siu Ching. Guaranteed, you'd have everything any common man would desire in the Palace. But -"

"Not you," she whispered again.

He shook his head. "No, not me. Unfortunately, I might die of boredom. I just can't be bothered with all those protocols." And I don't think I'm good enough for you... I don't think I deserve you...was his other reason, but he couldn't say that out loud. Actually, it was his primary reason, but he couldn't admit it to her. Not just yet.

It was a long while before Siu Ching whispered again, "Then, what am I doing here?"

"You're here so I can protect you from those who want to harm you," Chor Lau Heung replied, despite it being so obvious. The girl of course knew that, so she turned to face him with the "I am aware of that" look. Lingering Fragrance quickly offered a peace laurel: "I can also teach you how to fish."

"I thought you are not in the mood," she tilted her head. Unexpectedly, her humour seeped back into her system.

"Not now, I am not," Lau Heung was relieved to see a modicum of mirth returning to Siu Ching's countenance. "But tomorrowperhaps. One of these days, I'll teach you fishing. And I can also teach you chess. We didn't really get to finish that first lesson, that night."

"No we didn't," she agreed. "You were too busy holding my hands that night." She jerked her head as she realised she just blurted out that sentence without thinking. Yet, despite himself, Chor Lau Heung chuckled. "I did, didn't I?"

"Yes you did! It took poor old Mr Ying to enter the room and told us it was really getting late when you realised we had only moved, like, five chess pieces that night!"

Lingering Fragrance laughed this time. "Hahaha! Poor old Mr Ying! He's such a lovely chap!"

Despite herself, Siu Ching giggled. "More like a chaperone than a chap!" She was of course then wished she'd taken those words back. Yet, to her surprise, Chor tai-gor didn't complain. Instead, he smiled and said, almost to himself, "It was kind of him, and Au-Yeung Fei, to trust me to guard you here."

"They trust that you'd keep me safe."

"And I intend to do that," Chor Lau Heung turned serious. "Siu Ching, your safety is very important to the country. And..." After a moment of hesitance, he added, "...and also to me. I mean it; it worries me whenever you're in trouble."

Siu Ching contemplated that truth for a while. In fact, she almost lost count on how many times Chor Lau Heung put his life, or at least health, at risk to rescue her. If that was not love, she didn't know what it was then. Yet, she didn't want to ask that question again, now that she understood the reasons of his hesitance.

Yet, to her surprise, he took her hands once more and enveloped them in his own. "I can't convey how much you mean to me, Siu Ching. Part of it is because I'm bad at it..., and part of it is because I can't dedicate enough time for it. Now I'm just too concerned with keeping you safe. But..." His fingers automatically caressed her fingers, and, despite himself, he inwardly smiled when he felt her tensing, "...if you give me more time... Perhaps one day I can do justice to your feelings, just like I'm trying to do justice with your safety now."

Siu Ching looked up, demure hope started to emerge from within. "Chor tai-gor..."

"I can't promise you anything right now, Siu Ching, other than that I'll do my best to protect you. I know it's not enough for you... But I promise you, I'll trade your safety with my life if need be. With all that happen around us... With the aftermath of the Kams' suffering, with Zo Hing Hau's departure, with your father's kidnapping...I'm afraid it will have to do for now."

"Chor tai-gor..." 

It was not clear who started first, but both of them eventually found themselves in each other's embrace. Lingering Fragrance found himself caressing the girl's long black hair as she buried her head on his warm chest. He closed his eyes as he inhaled her fragrance. "I'd give my life to keep you safe, Siu Ching. I promise."

Siu Ching wanted to say that she didn't want him to sacrifice himself for her, for her life without him would be meaningless anyway, yet she knew it was a near-futile point to say. He'd do that, giving his life for her, in a heartbeat, without hesitance, without her permission. So, she instead said, "Don't do that, Chor tai-gor. You need to stay alive to teach me how to fish."

Surprised that she managed to keep her humour up, he opened his eyes and chuckled. "You're right. And I did promise to properly teach you how to play chess."

"You did," she eventually smiled and poked his chest. "And I will win."

He smiled too. "You might." He embraced her tighter. "You just might, Princess..."


Author’s note:

At this stage, no one thought that the Emperor actually had a son with Khoo Mui. Hence, I think CLH’s concern that he had to live in the Palace to accompany the future Queen is understandable. I got the inspiration after watching Ep 27 and Ep 29 (Ep 28 has no CLH/SC). In Ep 27, we saw Chor tai-gor being so shaken after he wronged the Kams, which resulted in the death of the Kam Brothers. Then CLH found out that Zo Hing Hau, his old mate, was behind the murder of the Kams. So many things happened at once in Ep 27 that understandably CLH didn’t want to entertain SC when she asked about their relationship. Which resulted in her stomping off and then playing the zither. However, in Ep 29, we saw the two of them playing chess together, and CLH was very attentive to SC. He showered here with a lot of TLC (tender loving care), from sharing consultative glances with her, stealing the Jade Seal for her, to supporting her during the wuxia meeting. I’d say, something happened between Eps 27 and 29 off screen that caused him to be warmer towards SC. This is my attempt to bridge the two episodes.

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