Drums thundered. Instruments clanged. Firecrackers popped and banged. The scent of food filled the air.
In the middle of the village square, a dragon hopped and skipped, the great puppet moving in time with the beat. The children of the festival gleefully chased it’s tail, and people talked and relaxed after finishing the harvest.
I cheered along with the crowd. Man, the village elders could move. They were making that dragon puppet bop.
I always appreciated the hard work that went into these things. I had seen a mid-autumn festival once in the Before, and honestly, this blew it out of the water. The sheer coordination alone was impressive, as they began jumping in time, sending the dragon slithering up and down like it was flying.
Then they ran up a wall, and jumped off backwards leading the dragon into a spiraling backflip. The crowd went nuts.
“Brother Jin!” Yun Ren called with a grin, and I held out my cup again. It was filled with rice wine to the brim, and I drank from it. We were both wearing better clothes. I had planned to buy some from the town for Meihua’s wedding, but I had ended up borrowing some of her father, Yao Che’s, clothes instead, because we were roughly the same build. It was a red sort of tunic, and black pants. With it, I matched the rest of the currently red village.
I was seated at the biggest table that had been bought out beside Xian, Meiling’s father. His seat was currently empty, as he was with Yao Che and Xong Ten Ren, Yun Ren’s father, in the dragon puppet, and the dance had just finished.
This… this was great. I was relaxing in my chair, at a festival, with a good cup of drink and the promise of better food later. The twilight sun was still warm and gentle on my skin.
“This is fantastic!” I sighed in contentment, grinning at the village.
“It does have its charms, doesn’t it?” Yun Ren replied, “Our Hong Yaowu tries its best.”
“Try our best?! Yun Ren, you scamp, we succeed with our best!” Yao Che thundered, red-faced and sweaty from the dragon dance, and a giant grin on his face. Yun Ren just rolled his eyes at the chastisement.
Meiling’s father staggered into his seat beside me, puffing and panting. “That gets harder every year.” He muttered, looking a little faint. He gave me a nod and a quick smile.
“Your dance was fantastic, Elder Yao, Elder Hong. Let me pour you a drink!” I said, and grabbed the bottle.
Both of them looked a little surprised, and Elder Yao’s grin widened further as he let out a booming laugh. “Look at how much face our honoured guest gives us!” He exclaimed as I poured both of them cups.
“Call me Brother Che, Brother Jin! There is no need for formalities, when you saved my precious flower from those wicked, vile men! Were she not intended for another, I would be happy to give you her hand!”
That... was a little bit awkward, but I kept the smile on my face.
“I’m honoured you think so highly of me, Brother Che.” I said as sincerely as I could
At this, he took another bottle, and poured me another drink. He held out his arm, and Jin’s memories told me to hook my arm around his. We drank our cups in a single mouthful.
Meiling’s father was next, pouring me another cup.
Oh, man, I was going to be so drunk later.
Soon enough, the food came out. Roast ducks, dumplings, and moon cakes.
“The ones I made are on the left.” Meimei whispered to me as she set down a platter.
My eyes lit up. Hell yeah, Meimei’s are the best, accept no substitutes!
We all tucked in, to music, and the happy sounds of people.
After the feast, Xian invited me back into his quarters so that we could talk. I had a bit of a feeling that I knew where this was going.
He sat on a cushion, and gestured for me to sit before him. We sat for a moment, just staring at each other, when Xian finally spoke.
“Jin Rou…” He asked in a stern voice, “When were you going to ask me for my daughter’s hand in marriage?”
“When I had enough food to feed her, enough cloth to clothe her, and a house worthy of her.” I replied.
Hong Xian considered my words, and his stern visage melted off his face, revealing a smile.
“I accept your proposal.” He stated simply. “This spring, after the snows melt, I shall give my daughter to your house.”
Xain bowed his head “Take good care of my Meiling.”
I blinked. My stomach churned. This was real. Yeah, I had been planning for it, but planning and “this is happening” are two different things.
I bowed back, not trusting my voice.
“Now, share a drink with me once more, for you shall be my son.”
Meiling wondered what her father’s announcement was about. He stood on the platform, with the lit paper lantern, and the village below him.
“My friends, on this holy night after our toils, on the eve of one wedding, it is with great pleasure that this Hong Xian announces another.”
She idly thought about who the wedding could be for. Maybe Yun Ren or Gou Ren to somebody?
“When the snows melt in spring, the House of Hong will unite itself with the house of Jin. Hong Xian’s daughter, Hong Meiling, will be wed to Jin Rou.”
Meiling’s eyes widened. Meihua gasped happily beside her.
Slowly, a smile crawled across her face. She turned to Jin, and when he saw the happy, near exultant look on her face, a relieved smile crossed his too.
The paper lanterns rose into the sky.
The people of Hong Yaowu hooted and hollered as Meiling ran and jumped into Jin’s arms.
Jin was staggering as Meiling led him back to the guest room. Honestly, she was surprised he was still capable of this much. He had to have drunk nearly ten whole bottles of wine, as people kept on demanding to have drinks with him. Yao Che had long since passed out, and required three people to carry him to a room.
Everyone who was to see Meihua off tomorrow would be half dead in the morning. Including Meihua herself, who had kept toasting to Meiling’s good fortune.
She would have to make plenty of hangover cures in the morning. It was also why she had wanted to postpone the festival, but Meihua wanted to celebrate with them one last time before she would likely be spending her autumns in the town.
She finally got Jin to the bed, and he tipped over, dragging her with him. He happily nuzzled into her neck, and planted a sloppy kiss there.
She sighed fondly, as she ran her fingers through his hair, cradled in his strong arms. Soon, this would be every night, and she looked forward to it.
But for now… She slipped out of his arms, and he frowned. She gently ran her fingers through his hair again, and his frown disappeared.
She had some elixirs to make.
I smiled at Yun Ren as he glared at me through bloodshot eyes. “Brother Jin, your body is unfair. Trade it with me.” He halfheartedly demanded.
Our procession was more a funeral march than a wedding procession. Everybody looked dead on their feet as they trudged along the path. Even Meihua on her horse, who was still as pretty as ever with not a hair out of place, was slumped and swaying.
Meiling’s hangover cure got them up and at it, but the fatigue still remained.
I leered at him “Come, on, Brother Yun Ren!” I called in a loud voice, and half the people around me winced. “Its a beautiful day!”
The rest of the procession turned to give me a look.
I reveled in their spite.