Sigh. So 8th’s honest attempt to have a heart-to-heart with Ruo Lan ends in his realization that he will never have a place in her heart.
(Note that the recaps are from Alice’s download links.)
Just one more last glance at the grieving ‘Virtuous Prince’ and …
… we leave the forlorn Ruo Lan behind to see a forlorn Ruo Xi sitting by herself while 13th saunters up, saying that the marriage is a imperial match and will last a hundred years. He tells her that being angry will do good. Gracelessly, the young girl looks down and replies, “Same with you.”
13th asks what she means.
Ruo Xi asks if she needs to explain as both men and women need to marry. She uses the ‘Xiang Wang You Yi, Xian Nu Wu Qing* tale’ of requited love as an analogy. 13th pauses and then laughs, saying that Ruo Xi is playing matchmaker to the wrong couple, believing he likes Ming Yu.
Ruo Xi looks up and then she smiles. She will be honest and tells him he has also misunderstood. That she does not like 10th.
After a thought. 13th nonchalantly says they are even then.
Ruo Xi notes that he was truly sad that day and asks him why. His expression shifts and she tells no explanations are necessary if he is unwilling to share. 13th openly admits that he was sad because it was his mother’s death anniversary. It happened many years ago, so many that his father has probably forgotten. But not him.
13th is puzzled why Ruo Xi treats 10th so well if she does not like him, preparing the special paper cranes and singing a song.
Ruo Xi smells and asks if he remembers Hong Fu Nu was doing when Bearded Man and her meet. He replies, combing her hair. Ruo Xi explains that she believes friendship is possible between a man and woman. Just like the two literary characters, a friendship that transcends romance and grounded in mutual care and sincerity.
13th gently shakes his head, repeating what Ruo Xi said, “Friendship that transcends romance and grounded in mutual care and sincerity. Well said, well said.”
They smile at each other, a glint of mutual liking sparking their expressions before 13th starts to say, “How about …” and Ruo Xi chimes in, “Having a drink together.” He answers promptly, “Let’s go.” and Ruo Xi follows.
Riding in front of him, they arrive at a small residence where two servants hurry forward and greets the prince. The maid tells 13th that her mistress is entertaining another guest but 13th waves her off, instructing the matron to prepare a simple meal as he is just there to drink with a friend.
Ruo Xi listens quietly, and then asks if it is a lady bosom friend. 13th gives it a moment and there is a hint of tenderness in his expression but replies that it is someone he is able to visit and talk with when he is depressed.
The girl gives a knowingly look and 13th laughingly tells her to stop ‘eh’ in that way and join him.
The hall is simply decorated and after a quick lookaround, Rou Xi asks if the mistress is a ‘Ya Ji’.
13th asks if Ruo Xi would think ill of such a woman, she promptly reminds him that everyone is of equal status and asks if he has forgotten. He smiles and shakes his head.
Lu Wu is announced and an elegant figure enters with a tray. Ruo Xi is startled and definitely pleased to see Lu Wu, though she darts a speculative eye in 13th direction. Clearly she thinks that 13th has the hots for this lovely woman.
13th smiles wide, obviously aware of Ruo Xi’s thoughts as she does not hide what she thinks from showing on her expression. The prince introduces the two women, addressing Ruo Xi as ‘Daredevil 13th Sister’ before suggesting a drinking bout with the three of them.
Lu Wu’s smile is gentle, agreeing silently and sets her tray on the table.
The three of them wine and dine, enjoying each other’s company.
Their conversation wanders randomly to events in the palace to events in ancient chinese history. From prose to poetry to literary writing to historic personages. Ruo Xi happily teaches 13th several modern gesture including the ‘okay’ and the ‘peace’ signs.
Ruo Xi excitedly jumps up when she realises that 13th also admires Ji Kang, an ancient poet who thoughts challenge the precepts of Confucianism. Ji Kang believes that everyone has the right to pursue their own happiness which is contrary to the Confucianism’s humanistic core of cultivating virtues for common good.
This is the first time since Ruo Xi’s fall that she is free to speak how she chooses on whatever comes to mind. Her happiness in 13th and Lu Wu’s company is obvious. This is Ruo Xi’s third treasure; the first being her sister and then 10th’s friendship.
Lu Wu marvels at the two, one is a imperial prince and the other the daughter of a high-ranking official. Yet both are careless of their own wealth and position and dares to query the norms of the day. 13th notes that Lu Wu has the same desire to question the present. Just like them, she is bound and that she desires a carefree unrestrained life.
The performer tilts her head and replies wistfully that it is so. Her expression is almost sad though the other two’s excitement overshadows Lu Wu’s words.
Ruo Xi proposes a toast to her new bosom friends, bonding as three ancient time people with modern thoughts and aspirations.
The scene switches between the devout Ruo Lan kneeling in front of the Guan Yin to 8th sitting in his study, toying with a pretty bangle.
Ruo Lan counts her beads is match to the image 8th double clasping the bangle before he firms his expression with decisive determination and then a smile.
Just as I had written earlier, he gave Ruo Lan and himself his final best shot at reconcilation but the failure though heartbreaking, also liberates him. Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes of ill-fated love, hope rears its head in the form of his wife’s sister. Someone who looks somewhat like Ruo Lan though with different personalities.
Ruo Xi is late returning to the 8th residence, nestling within 13th’s arms. They look happy together. The servants greet 13th and Ruo Xi. 13th starts up the steps but Ruo Xi asks him to go back. She is confident she will not be in trouble although she is late. 13th shakes his head and says it will be better for him to speak with his brother.
With a sheepish look, Ruo Xi apologises to her sister for returning late. ruo Lan reminds Ruo Xi that she had promised she would not do anything like staying out late with a man by herself after the previous incident. Ruo Xi stands with her head down, unwilling to respond.
How could she express her desire to spend time with 13th again especially after she has discovered such a kindred soul? Rou Lan is not sure how to make Rou Xi understand that her actions will likely cause her younger sister grief.
Rou Lan looks resigned and walks around Rou Xi before she stares at the man in the screen.
In the ensuring silence, Rou Xi looks up and notices her sister’s preoccupied air and hesitantly asks if Ruo Lan recognizes the man painted on the screen.
Ruo Lan quietly says that her horseriding skills were taught by him. Ruo Xi asks if Ruo Lan likes him. Tearfully, the elder sister opens her heart and tells her story. By imperial decree, 8th had proposed marriage to the Maertai Ruo Lan and she had been selected to his Ce Fujin. She knelt and plead her objection to her father but the outcome was the same. She still had to marry 8th. She got pregnant after the wedding.
Ruo Xi comments that doesn’t the marriage and pregnancy means the end of the whole romance. Ruo Lan goes on to say that after the first trimster, she received a note telling her that General had died at the frontline. Devastated, she fell ill and lost the baby.
Bitterly, Ruo Lan accuses the 8th prince. It was all because of 8th. 8th had tried to find out about the general and her father had send her general to the frontline.
Ruo Xi lightly touches her sister’s shoulder.
Rou Lan quotes a famous phrase, “I did not kill Boren, but Boren died because of me.”* Indirectly, she means she is responsible for her general’s death.
After that last sentence, Ruo Lan holds back her tears and walks towards the prayer table and starts a new round of chanting. Only in her devotions could this lovelorn Maertai daughter find solace in living when her heart is dead. Ruo Xi looks at her sister and has no words to offer.
The glow from the new friendship infects Ruo Xi’s mood and she happily draws while thinking about the previous night’s outing. In her old life, spending time with friends and spinning tales and such are common activities but in her present life, it is something that violates the morality of those around her.
Ruo Xi has lost much and is unwilling to lose the ability to choose her own friends. Although this would make life difficult for her sister, Ruo Xi believes Ruo Lan would support her. Thinking about how finding 13th is someone she could talk with, she is so happy that she wants to go out and drink with her immediately. She smiles to herself as she draws.
Qiao Hui asks Ruo Xi what she is drawing. Ruo Xi lifts it up and says a Horse Riding scene. Manga style. As usual, the maid is baffled and asks what that is.
A servant enters and requests Ruo Xi attend to 8th. Qiao Hui warns Ruo Xi it must be about the previous night’s drinking outing with 13th.
Ruo Xi tenses and anxiously follows the servant back to the study. She greets him. Headd down, Ruo Xi does not observe 8th’s expression, one of smiling welcome though tinted with a touch of desire.
The phoenix is alive once more!
He asks her to stand up. His fingers wrap around the white jade bangle with its double red streaks before dropping his arm by his side. 8th takes a deep breath before he turns and faces Ruo Xi, his eyes dark and intent on her face.
Ruo Xi glances up and then away at his expression, tension running rife on her face. Definitely she is wondering what 8th is going to do.
8th quirks a smile and asks where she had gone with 13th the previous night. Rou Xi straightens and asks if 13th had not told him. He says he wants her to tell him.
Do I detect a thread of jealousy within the questions?
She evasively tells him 13th brought her someone to drink. It would never do to tell the truth because that would end any possibilities of more excursions with 13th.
8th quietly observes her face. Perhaps a little disappointed that she is not frank with him but then he asks Ruo Xi to come close to him. Ruo Xi visibly hesitates. He asks again. She chews her lip and then takes a few small steps.
He asks if he is really that fearsome. She stays quiet with her fingers interwined across her body. 8th strides, hands behind her back until he is standing right in front of her. He gazes at Ruo Xi before reaching down for her wrist.
Panicking, Ruo Xi pulls back but he commands she stay still. She is breathing hard. Firmly holding her fingers, he squeezes them together just as he holds up the bangle and then carefully slides that hard accessory past her fingers and then smilingly admires the jade shackle around her delicate wrist.
Oops, did I say shackle? I meant bangle. A freudian slip.
He holds her hand for a few moments before pulling away, saying that he has a meeting with an offical and asks her to go back.
Ruo Xi is terribly confused and looks at 8th as he quietly sits behind his desk, picking a doucment and stringently ignores the young girl. She beats a retreat. holding up her hand and examines the bangle.
During mealtime, Ruo Lan notices the bangle but her sister is not sure what to do. She is definitely feeling guilty about the gift. It is from her brother-in-law after all. Ruo Lan notices her hesitation and takes a closer look before exclaiming that it is a very valuable phoenix blood jade piece.
Ruo Xi tilts her eyes away but Ruo Lan only smiles, saying that 13th is generous to Ruo Xi. Ruo Lan praises 13th for being the most outstanding amongst all the princes. He has a heroic air that the other princes lack. Ruo Xi agrees with a monosyllabic sound.
Ruo Lan has more to say, speaking in a slow contemplative manner that it might be better to forget something if it is an issue that a person cannot make a decidefor themselves. She asks if Ruo Xi understands and her younger sister affirms her understanding.
Ruo Xi then murmurs, “The selection of the Xiu Nu.”
It is another snowy day and the Emperor is walking with his sons. He tells them that he does not expect them to accompany all the time. 4th speaks up, asking advice about the riverwork construction in Shandong.
Xangxi notes that it is the New Year and does not want to discuss work. He remembers that it is time for the Imperial Inspection. 8th nods.
When the Emperor asks 8th if Ruo Xi has been selected, all the princes present react. 8th looks slightly tense but calmly replies that she has been. 14th looks at 8th while 13th is watching his father’s face.
4th’s expression is rather interesting. I had not expected him to show any emotions at the fact that Ruo Xi is selected.
Kangxi smiles and then turns away, commenting that this child is very intelligent.
13th is anxious on Ruo Xi’s behalf. Based on the earlier exchange, the chances of Ruo Xi being selected to enter the palace is very high. There are different levels of service when selecting a xiu nu. Considering Ruo Xi’s personality, being selected would be worse than dying.
Truly, even at this early stage, 13th values his friendship with Ruo Xi so much that he worries for her. Lu Wu bemoans the once-in-3-years Imperial Inspection. It is a nightmare for many Banner* women. If the Emperor admires a Xiu Nu and she becomes a Concubine then for the rest of her life, she would be trapped within the palace. Lu Wu states that the Qing selection is more lenient than previous dynasties. Most Xiu Nu not married to the Emperor is only required to serve a few years, usually until they are 24 before they are released back to their families or bestowed marriage partners. Lu Wu laments that their precious youth is wasted.
13th stands up, determined to save Rou Xi from this terrible destiny.
Lu Wu points out that Ruo Xi is special, different from the other young ladies of her generation but given her lineage and customs of the present, there is little that can be done to help her escape from this fate.
At least to escape from the fate of being part of the Emperor’s harem. Lu Wu weeps at the thought, mostly for Ruo Xi but also perhaps for herself. There is a hint of tragedy dogging Lu Wu’s heels. Perhaps this is the fate of every woman.
She sighs and then delicately sips from her cup, her sadness apparent in her face. Moved, 13th turns, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. He has a resolute air about him, clearly determined to save his new friend.
It is the start of a new year. Ming Hui is shocked to learn that 8th has decided to spend the evening with Ruo Lan. He has always spend that day with her since their marriage. She points out that everything is ready within her hall and that Ruo Lan has always kept a simple household in her quarters. That there won’t even be the season couplets.
She says she’s concerned that the preparations might be lacking and inadequate to honour 8th. The prince looks around the hall, admiring the decorations but emphasizes that he had already made the arrangements to observe the New Year rites in her quarters. Coolly, he tells Ming Hui that he is only there to tell her this news. Without ceremony, 8th depart.
8th hides his feelings for his sister-in-law well but from the expression on Ming Hui’s face, it is certain that she has an inkling of where her husband’s eyes had been lingering on. This surely forebodes trouble for Maertai Rou Xi.
In Ruo Lan’s quarters, the sisters dine with 8th. He continues to be amiable with Ruo Lan, putting choice bits into Ruo Lan and Ruo Xi’s bowls. Qiao Hui is definitely delighted by the visit. Ruo Xi chews hard while eyeing the married couple curiously.
Being new to the 8th household, Ruo Xi is new to the New Year customs. Qiao Hui tells her that this year is really lively. It has been a long time since Ruo Lan has been happy. Especially since 8th and her sister are celebrating it with her. Maids scatter sesame straw under everyone’s feet as they walk along the porch. Ruo Xi says they’ve been walking a while and why the straw.
Qiao Hui answers that it is the ‘Cai Sui’ custom to receive luck. As the sesame flowers, steadily it grows tall. Ruo Xi yawns, and says they have been walking a while and asks Ruo Lan if she can go see her bed. She flashes a cheeky grin.
Ruo Lan smiles that it’s like her sister has not seen her bed for three hundred years. Such ironic statement! 8th looks on with paternalistic mien.
Qiao Hui points out that the second young mistress had played well and long, tiring herself. 8th says all is well as long as Ruo Xi enjoyed herself and gives her permission to go bed. Ruo Xi happily thanks and twirls, but Ruo Lan calls her back. Reminding her sister that they have to usher in the new year.
Ruo Xi repeats that and her face falls. She continues to mope, lying cheek down on the table while Ruo Lan and 8th looks on in some amusement. Terribly sleepy, she rejects a maid’s suggestion to have more food to stay awake. She says she will exercise instead but promptly flops into a chair after a few quick steps around the hall.
Ruo Lan closes in on Ruo Xi while the maids hurriedly supports the drowsy Ruo Xi into a chair. 8th stands up but keep apart, eyes intent on Ruo Xi. There is a sense of him wanting to be close to his young sister-in-law but keeping away because of his wife.
The older sister bends over Ruo Xi, suggesting that perhaps she should nap for a while and instructs pillows to be brought out. Ruo Xi smiles and drops her head against the back of her seat. Closing her eyes, she can hear 8th telling Ruo Lan to rest as well. Ruo Lan declines and 8th turns away.
Ruo Lan calls him suddenly. Her voice is soft, sweetly friendly as she hesitates then quietly says that she has a presumptuous request. Quite different from the usual manner that she responds to the 8th prince.
It is a request about Ruo Xi. Ruo Lan says that her sister has grown up in the army barracks and there is no way she is able to measure up to the ladies brought up in the city. She worries that her sister would get into trouble after entering the palace. She requests 8th to ask Mo Mo (the senior court maid) and Ang Da (title for Li De Chuan, the eunuch who serves Kang Xi and is the most senior of the male palace staff) to keep an eye out for Ruo Xi.
8th smiles and tells Ruo Lan that it is not an unreasonable request. That even if she had not asked, he would have done it. She balks. 8th asks her to continue.
Ruo Lan turns back to look at her napping sister, her expression of tender love. She says that if Ruo Xi is able to escape being selected for the inner palace, and when the Emperor is ready to make a decision about her younger sister’s marriage, she considers 13th the best choice.
Ruo Lan has her back to 8th and does not observe his ‘like hell 13th does’ look. Yes, I am calling it.
His wife notes that Ruo Xi and 13th gets along well. She believes that if 13th asks 4th for this favour, and through 4th, the Crown Prince’s assistance and if 8th also adds his support, Kangxi would definitely match both of them.
8th balks and then says that it is too early to discuss Ruo Xi’s marriage but he assures Ruo Lan that he will make sure Ruo Xi does not suffer. Ruo Lan thanks 8th gracefully.
In her half awake state, Ruo Xi listens to the exchange and is touched. Her sister has always treated 8th coolly but for Ruo Xi’s sake, Ruo Lan has lowered her defences and pleaded for 8th’s help. Ruo Xi wonders what 8th is actually thinking when Ruo Lan was imploring him on her behalf.
Overhead, fireworks splatter and Ruo Xi jumps up! She cries out that the New Year is here! Ruo Lan agrees. The younger sister grins and says she’s finished ushering the New Year and it is time for bed. Without waiting for any answer, Ruo Xi runs off.
There is a silence once Ruo Xi departs and 8th decides to leave. Qiao Hui chimes in, asking if 8th will stay since it is late. 8th glances over at Ruo Lan but his wife looks away with pursed lips. He shakes his head, restating that he will do what he has promised Ruo Lan and leaves.
Back in her room, Ruo Xi drowsily mutters ‘Bed!’ and hurries towards it with outstretched arms. Kicking off her shoes, Ruo Xi starts to rearrange her pillows as Qiao Hui enters. The maid tells Qiao Hui to wash up before sleeping to Ruo Xi’s refrain of ‘I want to sleep!’.
Qiao Hui mentions that it is fortunate that Ruo Lan always ushers in the New Year. If Ruo Lan is like Ruo Xi and greedy for sleep, who would stay up to wish health and longevity for her parents. She then says she’d be back with water and asks the second young mistress not to sleep too well first.
Ruo Xi rolls over in the bed, eyes wide as Qiao Hui’s reminder seeps in.
She redresses and steps out into the snow. How could she have forgotten that the ritual of waiting for the New Year is also a filial gesture to wish for her parents’ well being. Ruo Xi misses her parents desperately. She is afraid that the longer she remains where she is, she will forget who she is : Zhang Xiao.
She looks up with a sad lost expression, asking the heavens who is she really. Ruo Xi or Zhang Xiao?
I think she is now both. Almost six months has passed since the spirit transfer. During that time, the modern Zhang Xiao has slowly been subsumed by the young Ruo Xi body. Buffeted on all sides by Confucianism and tradition. Being treated like a child, Ruo Xi behaves like one. Hot tempered, impulsive and unfraid of consequences. The modern values of the mature 25 year old spirit has melded with the influences surrounding the 13 year old body.
As she stands in the snow with tears in her eyes, 8th comes out and stops when he sees her. He is concerned, watching as she hastily wipes her tears. She greets him and he waves her up, asking what happened. She had left with glee just a little while ago and yet now on the first day of the new year, she looks like this.
Ruo Xi hopes he does not laugh at her but she is mad at herself for being a sleep glutton and forgetting her filial new year responsibility. He does quirk a smile, noting that being filial does not rely on such customs and certainly not on crying by herself on the first day of the new year. He laughs lightly, saying he thought she must committed something unpardonable to cry in such a pitiful manner. He asks if she feels better now that she has cried.
She replies, yes, much better and that she should get back to her room. There is a pregnant silence, and he looks like he wants to ask her stay. Baffled, Ruo Xi pauses and then smiles asking why 8th is not staying with her sister. 8th’s expression makes her shy away. 8th shifts and then replies that Ruo Lan is still awake with the ritual and that he has to leave for the palace at daybreak to offer his new year greetings to the Emperor.
Ruo Xi murmurs in surprise, “At dawn?” before adding that together with the new year ushering, it would be difficult to rest. She wishes him a good night’s sleep and takes her leave.
8th balks and replies, “There’s no hurry.” Ruo Xi almost flushes at his answer and her eyes shift, uncomfortable and yet unwilling to depart at the same time. 8th gives a tiny sigh at her expression and then nods, “Go then.”
He looks disappointed as Ruo Xi turns away. The young woman is definitely self-conscious.
Ming Hui is seated in her room, hands tucked comfortably in a fur muff. She looks discontented, looking up when Ming Yu greets her. The younger Gorolo sister wishes happy new year while Ming Hui welcomes her gladly.
Ming Yu apologizes for her late arrival saying that their parents spend so much time with the 10th prince and herself. She stayed on because she did not want to spoil their mother’s joy. Ming Hui replies that since it is the first time 10th and Ming Yu are visiting, it is not a wonder they are excited. Ming Hui teases her sister, saying a married daughter is water emptied from a tub.
Ming Hui notices 10th’s absence and asks about his whereabouts since they had just been to the Gorolo home. Ming Yu says her husband had work and she asked him to go home. Her elder sister sighs, envying Ming Yu who has 10th to accompany her during new year’s eve.
She laments that she spend the previous night with her son, Hong Wang. That she had not seen the 8th prince even when dawn came. Ming Yu is astonished because 8th had always spend the eve with his First Wife.
Ming Hui remarks that it is different this year. 8th spend the eve with Ruo Lan. She had heard from the servants that there was happy laughter during the whole night.8th did not return to his room until daylight. He changed and then went to the palace.
Ming Yu is unhappy with 8th. Wondering why he would spend the eve with Ming Hui and his son but go over to Ce Fujin’s quarters. Ming Hui highlights that ever since Ruo Xi’s arrival, 8th had taken especial care of the two Maertai sisters. Even going over every couple of days. If there was anything interesting or new, 8th would have it send over to Ruo Lan’s courtyard.
Strong jealousy raises its ugly head. Ming Hui comments that Ruo Xi is definitely not a good person, calling her a person with mature thoughts and full of tricks. She snorts, noting that all the servants in the 8th residence and even the different princes only had good to say of Ruo Xi.
Ming Yu snorts in agreement. She tells her sister that 10th wanted to come and she seeing his excitement, knew that 10th would definitely look for Ruo Xi. That is why she had actually forced 10th to return home.
Ming Hui notes that it is almost time for the Imperial Inspection. She hopes that once Ruo Xi leaves the 8th residence, everything would return to as it was before. Ming Yu worries at the mention of the Imperial Inspection.
The younger sister points out that the Emperor had been impressed by Ruo Xi during the mid-autumn gather. She speculates that if the Emperor is really taken by Ruo Xi and decides to take her as his Royal Concubine, this would make Ruo Xi even more arrogant. The two sisters eye each other in distres.
8th is announced and the sisters hurry to greet him. He looks tired, and looks surprised not to see his 10th brother. He asks about 10th and Ming Yu says her husband decided to go back because he had work.
The prince laughs, it is said that once a man starts his own home, he would become more responsible. Indeed it is true with 10th. His marriage has made him more concerned about work.
Ming Yu laughs and shakes her head, saying what work could 10th have on the first day of the new year. She claims he is probably taking the chance to sleep after the long sleepless eve and using work as an excuse to avoid angering 8th.
8th nods, smiling as he drinks his tea. Yet somehow I get the impression 8th is not really listening to Ming Yu but thinking of something else. Something that makes him pleased.
The two women looks at him and then at each other in growing dismay.
Qiao Hui drags Ruo Xi, urging her to watch the dragon dance. The second Maertai young mistress seems remote, perhaps still wistful about her parents. The fireworks, the laughter and spectacular performance would usually delight her but she barely smiles, merely observing the festivities with dreamy eyes.
The maid excitedly claps, pointing one way then another. Qiao Hui calls Ruo Xi, mentioning that Ruo Xi had been moping for a few days and that she should take the opportunity of being out of the 8th residence and enjoy herself.
She feigns a smile and then looks away, silently scanning the crowd until she spots a face. 13th! Her eyes light up and she waves at the prince! Gladly, she weaves through the crowd, dropping a quick curtsy and exclaims at the coincidence. A slim young youth accompanies the prince.
13th grins saying that if there is intention, there is of course coincidence. The road they are on leads to the 8th residence. It is not that difficult to find Ruo Xi at all. Ruo Xi retorts that she might not have come out that night.
The prince points out that it being such a festive day, it is difficult to imagine the fun-loving Ruo Xi burying herself in her room. Ruo Xi remarks that it is Qiao Hui who dragged her out and not her desire. The maid looks abashed but 13th just smiles, directing their steps in a different direction.
Their fluid banter and ease with each other is a joy to watch.
As they strolled, 13th mentions that he had asked Lu Wu to join them. Ruo Xi immediately replies the more the merrier.
13th looks over her shoulder, saying, “See? I did not lie to you.” The slim lad steps up and is a male-garbed Lu Wu. Lu Wu smiles and agrees that it is as 13th had insisted, that Ruo Xi is a sincere and open-hearted person. Ruo Xi steps forward, clasping Lu Wu’s hands in her own while Qiao Hui exclaims in surprise. No wonder the lad had looked so delicate, he is really a she.
The prince knows a good restaurant and suggests having a meal first before they continue sightseeing. The waiter ushers them into a private space overlooking the street, promising them a good view of the evening’s performances. Just behind them is 14th and his entourage.
The ladies immediately greet the new arrival, while 14th’s followers bow to 13th. 14th waves them upright, declining the formalities since they are all dressed in common clothes. 13th agrees.
13th gazes at Ruo Xi, flicking his eyes between the Maertai lady and the male-garbed Lu Wu. He gives a tiny frown, intently eyeing Ruo Xi as if giving her a message but Ruo Xi looks away.
Meanwhile one of 14th’s companions recognizes Lu Wu. 13th looks up, impassively watching the speakers as they pass comments about his female companion. Lu Wu is known to be noble and unmaterialistic despite the fact that she is a performer. Ruo Xi reaches over, gripping Lu Wu’s hand and gives a slight comforting headshake. Lu Wu smiles gently, shaking her head and indicating that she is fine.
The courtier says that a high class female performer, is still a prostitute and wonders why such a woman is not concerned about money. Lu Wu is disquieted by the chatter.
13th looks aggravated. 14th is disturbed by the conversation and stares at his brother.
A second courtier exclaims that Lu Wu must be 13th’s female bosom friend, implying that they are lovers. Another had seen Lu Wu a while back, and the sight had haunted him as if it was just yesterday. He asks when he’d have a chance to meet and know her better. 13th’s eyes flash and he glares at the courtier.
Ruo Xi is infuriated and she stares at the scions standing behind 14th, remarking that if it is not because the men are accompanying of 14th, she would thought they were ruffians from some marketplace daring to be insolent in front of both princes.
There is a dead silence.
The first courier starts in on Ruo Xi, saying that Ruo Xi must be in the same position as Lu Wu. And that someday her reputation would surely outshine Lu Wu’s. He adds that 13th surely trounce any other promiscuous youth having the fortune to accompanied by such beauty.
13th slams his cup down while 14th orders the man to keep quiet.
A third courier who recognizes Ruo Xi nudges the first man, urging him to apologise to General Maertai’s daughter. The man hastily bows and begs forgiveness for his disrespect.
14th abruptly remarks that it is late and that it is time for Ruo Xi to return back to 8th’s residence. He offers to drink with 13th at another time. 13th tightens his lips but nods his agreement, asking 14th to send Ruo Xi back.
The younger prince smiles, asking 13th not to be concerned and that he has the intention to escort Ruo Xi. 14th steps up to Ruo Xi, saying let’s go.
Ruo Xi glances at 13th, and receiving his slight nod, she shifts and readies to follows 14th. She lightly pats Lu Wu’s hand before giving the other woman a side glance, silently offering comfort and understanding before she follows 14th.
13th carefully grips her arm and then offers to send Lu Wu back. She smiles and nods.
Back in 8th’s study, Ruo Xi defends herself. She asks if there is any wrong being with 13th or with being with a woman who comes from a brothel.
Amazed by her question, 14th asks if Ru Xi has ever seen any other ladies of statue within the Forbidden City consorting with a ‘lady of the evening’.
Ruo Xi hotly counters with a whole list of courtesans who had displayed loyalty, nobility, faithfulness, and patriotism. She states firmly that even a courtesan can be a virtuous person and deserving admiration and praise. 8th sits back with a smile as the two youths exchange fiery words.
14th is flabbergasted and appeals to 8th, pointing at Rou Xi and sarcastically saying that she really reads a lot. A lot of rubbish!
Ah the fire of impetuous youth, always so sure of how right their beliefs are. 14th is so traditional at this moment, sticking close to the values of the society he lives in. Savour this 14th and watch how this young prince develops through the years.
Rou Xi rounds on 14th, saying that he has no right to question what she reads. Only her father and her sister have the right to question her. Certainly not 14th!
Entertained, 8th gazes at both before persuading 14th to leave the matter in his hand. He asks 14th to return. 14th snorts angrily and marches off.
Ruo Xi glares at 14th’s back. 8th quietly says that the nickname that the Crown Prince has jokingly bestowed is certainly apt. Not only is her headstrong and intrepid temperament like his 13th brother, she has 13th’s unbridled care-free nature similiar to literary gentlemen.
He asks her not to stand. Ruo Xi steps away, heading for the furthest chair but he directs her to sit beside him as he has a few words for her.
Ruo Xi pauses before carefully moving to the seat next to 8th, eyes on her hands clasped in her lap.
8th asks if she is afraid. Surprised, she looks up. He clarifies, “The Xiu Nu Inspection. Are you afraid?”
She looks away, her silence answering his question. 8th comments that the day of the Inspection is close yet she still has time to worry and stand up for others. He wonders if Ruo Xi is truly afraid or pretending to be afraid of the Inspection day.
Ruo Xi mutters silently, the Xiu Nu Inspection day again. Everyone keeps bringing this up. Yet what could she do. She desires to hide but nothing she does would change the fact that she has to attend. She can only helplessly wait for the day to arrive. Deep in thought, the young woman unconsciously twists the phoenix bangle around her wrist.
8th stares silently. Turning his head, he launches into a story. 8th saw Ruo Lan for the first time when she was fifteen. That year, General Maertai had come to the capital, bringing his daughter with him.
It was lovely spring day with a blue sky. So blue as as if freshly cleaned. A gentle wind carrying the perfumes of flowers, permeating through and through. He was riding with two of his servants when from a distance, he noticed a young lady. She was racing along the ridge.
He reminds Ruo Xi of her sister’s performance at the Crown Prince’s competition. 8th tells Ruo Xi that her sister rode even more brilliantly that first time he saw her. Her laughter rings clear as chimes across the hillside. Within that bell-like sound, happiness resounds so finely that bystanders would feel the joy and join in.
8th could not believe what he saw. Within the Forbidden City, beauty abounds but Ruo Lan was different.
Ruo Xi imagines the scene and knows that the beauty 8th describes comes from Ruo Lan loving and being loved, believing that the happiness would last forever. Her joy bubbles from deep within her heart and because her love is different from the love experienced by the other Forbidden City ladies.
She remembers what her sister told her. About 8th sending men to enquire about her general and how their father had send her general to the frontline. Killing him.
8th continues his narration. He had returned home and searched for Ruo Lan’s identity. When he found out, he tried to plan how to persuade his father to bestow her as his wife. It was at this time that his mother told him that a match had been made between Maertai Rou Lan and himself.
He was delirious with joy and on the second day after the official decree, 8th searched for the perfect gift for his soon-to-be bride. After six months, he finally found a phoenix jade bangle, intending to present it on their wedding day.
Ruo Xi realises it is the same bangle she is wearing! She asks if it is the one and the same.
8th delicately holds Ruo Xi’s wrist, gazing at the bangle and continues, “The day I’ve waited for finally came.”
Dropping her hand, 8th turns away with a pained look.
When he had flipped the red bridal veil back, he realised that something was amiss. The woman he had yearned for two years and the woman in front of him were completely different. It was as if they were two different persons. His new bridenever rode, she seldom smiled. He suspected that he might have made a mistake. He send his men to Ximen and found out the reason.
Rou Xi lifts her head, and asks with a tinge of heat, “That person. How did he die?”
Up to the last episode, Rou Xi’s friendship had been within the 8th prince’s camp. She had no affinity for any of the others. It is in this episode that 13th bonded with her. The encounter involving Lu Wu introduced the first hint of the struggle within Rou Xi’s affection for the princes in both camps.
* See Notes for explanation