The promised wife

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I had help with the servants bathing and drying my hair. They wrapped me in fine clothing then brought me out to the main hallway. I was escorted to the common room where my brother, Jingam and his wife all gathered together in blithe conversation.

There were servants tending to them. The table was filled with fresh fruits and wine. The innocent tea party this afternoon progressed into drinking as their voices trickled through the hallways loudly. It must've been some impeccable wine for the beverage to lift their spirits so easily.

I thought about letting the night pass and stay in the chamber instead. I haven't had any solid meal in the last two days and wine is only going to make me light headed. Besides, I was forbidden to drink, directed by mother for obvious reasons.

I turned around deciding it's best to stay in the room this evening.

Yuanji and Jingam came to my chamber in the middle of the night, checking how I was doing.

"Didn't see you at all this evening, little sister." Yuanji stumbled and slurred his words. He was always a sloppy drinker. Yuanji never drinks, only occasionally when the situation called for it. He believed drinking impaired his ability to reason and his performance physically, so he treated it like poison and stayed away from it.

While Yuanji could barely hold the liquid in his stomach, Lord Jingam seemed all well. He grinned, his cheeks were red but he wasn't stumbling and falling like my brother. He looked at me, then to my brother, patting his back playfully. "Don't worry, little bird. I'll make sure your silly brother get to his chamber unharmed."

I managed a smile, couldn't wait to shut the door on them.

I searched for princess Li and wondered whether her animosity lurked somewhere in the hallway. I figured it was just a matter of time before I find her knocking on my door, threatening, or harassing me with her infamous malice.

This is going to be a very long visit, I thought. And Yuanji had yet to enlighten me the real purpose of us being here. I can't very well seduce a man who has a bulldog for a wife. I'm terrified of her, and I can honestly admit to that.

It was mid-morning by the time the lords of the house woke up. I was served and fed breakfast by the servants before anyone else rise. I didn't sleep well and woke up earlier than usual. I remember the large pond the manor had. It housed large koi fishes before. I was surprised when it was turned into a beautiful lotus garden, just like what we have back home.

The view of the beautiful garden drew me in and made me feel at home, deciding to spend my time there this morning. With a book on my lap, the fresh breeze, and silence, it was all I needed to feel serene.

"So, what do you think?"

I heard Jingam's voice as I glanced over my shoulder, finding him standing behind me. He regarded me a soft smile that I returned innocently. "What did I think of what, lord Jingam?"

"The garden, of course." He said, lifting his eyes as he surveyed the scenery with me.

I brought my gaze back to the view before me. "It's wonderful. Lotus is my favorite flower and it's my family's crest."

"I know." Said Jingam softly, he lowered himself, taking the space beside me. "That's why I had them planted. This used to be a koi pond, but I thought it'd be a nice surprise for whenever you come to visit again. I just didn't think it'll take you five long years to come back."

"Lord Jingam." I feign my overwhelmed enthusiasm. "Don't tell me you had the pond converted into lotus garden especially for me?"

"Why of course. There's nothing more I want than to see my little bird happy."

My little bird?

The delight wiped away from my eyes and my smile faded. I couldn't hide the surprise that came over me when he used the word my.

The smile on Jingam's cheeks wiped away when he noticed my surprise. "Didn't you know?"

I shook my head, "didn't know what?"

"Has your brother not told you?"

That very phrase turned my ears numb. Yuanji is filled with tricks and surprises. Of course, my brother would not tell me anything. "Eldest brother likes keeping me in the dark. I'm afraid, I don't know what's going on."

"I promised your brother I'll marry you as soon as you're at marrying age. Your brother can be quite persistent. He brought you here to be my wife."

I sucked a steadying breath, my onset headache coming on so early in the morning. A sudden distraught embraced me and damn about hiding it. "Well, eldest brother had always made me think I belonged to no one else but you. The same way with my parents. I just never thought I've been betrothed to you all this time. It's very unlikely for the house of Yi just to give away their daughter without getting anything in exchange. If you know my family, this is unusual."

"That's hardly not getting anything in return, you are getting me in return."

My face soured. He's hardly a prince charming he thinks he is.

"All kidding aside, Lord Jingam, your first wife is a princess."

"There's no decree anywhere in our houses' agreement that I could not pick up another wife. Your brother knows that my father knows that."

"Your wife and her clan don't know that. You purposely left a hole in that contract. Tell me, did Yuanji penned that contract for you?"

"Yes, father employed his help writing those conditions." He smiled, and his smile looks almost as manipulative as Yuanji's cunning smile.

I exhaled. "That explained a lot."

"Your brother is cunning." He smiled again. "That's why father likes him."

"Yes, if there's an award for it, he'll most definitely win it."

Jingam picked up my hand and held it. He stared at me, his eyes mapped and memorized every detail of my face. I hoped for my chest to flutter, the kind of bliss people get when falling in love at first sight. It didn't happen. I liked him, and I think he's a good man, but I was not in love with him. Not even when I was brought up to believe he's to be my husband one day.

Perhaps, that sort of thing isn't supposed to happen to people like me. Our love is the kind of love that's supposed to grow over time. Something where you build over time.

"When Yuanji told me I wouldn't regret it, he was right. He said you would grow up to be beautiful, you're everything I'm going to want, and I won't be able to live without you."

I loosened a breath, his confession was romantic and overwhelming. Heat flushed on my cheeks, wanting to get away from this awkward moment, but lord Jingam held my hand tight, and I could not free from him.

"Yuanji is just like a businessman, he'll say anything to get you to agree with him."

"No," said Jingam, his head shaking. "You're a noble lady from the house of Yi. There's not a man wouldn't do to have you for his wife."

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