After dinner, mom called me as soon as I stood up. She wiped her mouth, looked at me and said: : “Son, are you free tonight? How about sharing some drinks with mommy? Mommy is free tonight.”
“Mom, tonight I……”
“Son, how much longer are you going to continue putting up this front?”
Mom sighed and continued: “Didn’t mommy tell you already? When you’re tired, just ask mommy to spoil you. Son, do you think mommy can’t tell? You don’t want to do what you’re currently doing at all. Son, you are putting up a front and forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do because you’re different to mommy.”
I looked at mom, clenched my fists and sternly exclaimed: “I’m not! This is what I want to do! This is what I did!”
Mom smiled helplessly and then said: “Son, come to mommy’s room. There are some things that are better said as we drink.”
I relaxed my hands, looked at mom and nodded. Mom stood up and Nier came out. She followed behind us as we headed to the inner court. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I keep feeling that Nier is looking at me. However, every time I turn around, Nier’s gaze is always trained forward.
Once we arrived at the inner court, mom pulled the door to her room open and we entered. Nier bowed and said: “I shall go and bring the wine over,” and then closed the door. Mom sighed, took off her coat and threw it aside. She then turned around with a smile and said: “Don’t stand on ceremony, son, come and drink with mommy.”
Mom sat on her bed and patted the spot next to her.
“Alright…… but I want to know what you want to talk about, mom.”
I removed my cape and placed it aside before sitting down next to mom. Mom affectionately hugged me as she stroked my head and said: “Son, mommy doesn’t want to say anything in particular. It’s just that mommy noticed that you were so worn out so mommy wanted to help you relax a bit. Mommy isn’t talking about physical fatigue, but mental fatigue.”
“Mom! I told you, I……”
“Shh…… Son, let mommy finish.”
Mom suddenly extended her finger and placed it on my lips. She then smiled as she looked at I who was desperately trying to speak, tilted her head and continued: “Let mommy guess, you want to say that they’re things you’re willing to do, that you don’t want to be the same you of the past, that you want to take revenge and that you want to change, right? Mommy knows~, mommy understands. You’re mommy’s son, so mommy knows whatever you’re thinking.”
“Your majesty, your wine is here.”
Nier pushed the door open and came in. She placed a small table and the wine in front of us before bowing and leaving the room and closing the door. Mom let go of me. She filled up the wine-cups with white wine and said: “This is spirits from the desert. Mommy really likes it because once you’re drunk, you’ll be able to forget about everything.”
I raised my wine-cup and clinked mine with mom’s before finishing it in one go. The wine went down my oesophagus and into my gut, lighting up all of my cells and blood like I drank fuel. When it reached my gut, it felt like a blade was grinding against my gut. I could feel my eyes burn and go numb. That caused me to suddenly tear up and for my body to become hot.
“Cough, cough… cough, cough, cough!!”
I covered my mouth as I coughed.
“Are you alright, son?”
Mom patted me on my back and then refilled my cup. She then raised her cup, looked at the wine in it and said: “It feels like drinking a blade when you drink the first cup of this one. But the second cup onwards feels like drinking water. It’s not that it’s weak, but because your throat has become numb by then.”
“Cough, cough…… Mom… this wine… is hot.”
I think this wine is already sixty-degrees for sure. The only similar wine I’ve drank before is Cao Yuan Bai. I looked at mom. My head was spinning. I had no idea what mom was saying.
Mom looked at me and finished her wine in one shot. Mom was laid back as if she was drinking water. In fact, her face didn’t even go red. I’ve never actually seen mom drunk. Mom placed the wine down, looked at me and said: “When mommy was young, mommy was also a young girl, no different to girls now. Mommy liked pretty dresses, stole mom’s make-up, learnt to sing and dance, but a few years later, mommy killed another human being for the first time.”
“Did you think mommy was willing? At the time, mommy was hurt and sad too. Mommy desperately tried to wash mommy’s hands, but it felt like the blood wouldn’t wash off. However, mommy couldn’t rest or stop because there was more people mommy had to kill out there. Mommy wanted forgiveness. Mommy didn’t want to drink wine from a skull, but mommy had no choice as there were countless people behind pushing mommy to advance. Mommy wore the mask of an empress until now. And now, mommy can no longer separate from bloodshed.”
Mom tilted her head upwards to drink more wine. She smiled bitterly and said: “Son, you must know that a mask can help you achieve your goals. You’re wearing the mask of the prince just as mommy wears the mask of the empress. I know what you’re like deep down. You’re gentle and kind. You must be suffering as you do these things. But we’re all also aware that we have to continue once we wear our mask on.”
I looked at mom and clenched my teeth. I withstood the pain in my gut and seriously said: “Mom… mom, I truly… must continue like this.”
I no longer knew if the pain I felt in my gut was due to the wine or what mom said. I no longer knew if the tears on my face were because I coughed or because of my suffering.
However, I didn’t completely agree with mom. Every choice I made and the resolve I formed in Luna’s arms were like that. Perhaps this wasn’t my nature, but I wasn’t suffering too much either.
That’s right… I wasn’t sad at all… I never thought about the consequences that would come out of my decisions……
“If that’s the case, you could’ve just squandered all of those stores or framed them up. But instead, you bought their stores off them for three-times the price. Son, you just used money so that you wouldn’t hate yourself. Son, mommy understands. Mommy treats mommy’s soldiers so generously in order to compensate for the pain mommy witnesses when soldiers fall. Son, masks are very useful, but if you wear them for too long, it’ll merge with your original nature. It’ll merge with your skin and become part of your flesh, stopping you from removing it forever.”
Mom placed her wine-cup down and pushed the table away. She then gently hugged me who was dizzy. She sighed at the sight of my tears that wouldn’t stop and placed my head onto her thigh. She gently stroked my head and softly said: “This is what it means to mature. Son, maturing means slowly becoming the person you don’t want to become. Son, you’re just like mommy. Mommy understands you, your thoughts and the suffering you feel. So when you’re by mommy’s side, you don’t have to act tough. Use wine as a means of letting it out. Go ahead and cry. Hug mommy. Take your mask off when you’re with mommy.”
“I… I’m not… I… I……”
My tears flowed out uncontrollably. My entire body quivered. I felt numb and relieved at the same time. I didn’t know why I was like that. I didn’t know why I was so sad. I didn’t know why I felt so wretched. I didn’t know why I felt so relaxed either. It was like the tension on the bowstring finally went away. I breathed in mom’s scent while crying tears of joy and pain.
That’s just how I am…… This is my true nature…… This is how I am…… I willingly changed into how I am now. I swear I will continue on like this……
“Mommy understands, mommy understands.”
But why? Why? Why could I not hold back my tears when mom touched me……?
*Cao Yuan Bai is a type of white wine in China, that’s 60 degrees which comes from Mongolia.