Ruo Xi lifts her head, and asks with a tinge of heat, “That person. How did he die?”
Hidden from Ruo Xi, 8th’s face briefly shifts from pain to regret before his expression returns to its usual calm. He sits down saying that the men he send were careless and General Maertai caught wind of the investigation.
To save his subordinate, her father send the general to the front and he died.
Ruo Xi stares at 8th then suddenly she tries to remove the phoenix bangle. The prince is startled then grabs her wrist, stopping Ruo Xi. He demands she not remove it.
The young woman mutters that it belongs to her sister.
8th corrects her, saying it is for the woman he likes! He asks her to promise him that she’d never remove it. Ruo Xi examines his face then slowly lowers her arms, silently agreeing to his request.
The prince asks her not to be afraid and that he’d definitely think of a way to persuade his father to marry Ruo Xi to him.
Ruo Xi hastily shakes her and says she does not want to. 8th asks in a shocked tone if she wants to be part of his father’s harem. She also shakes her head.
8th is baffled by Ruo Xi’s reaction.
He really wants to be with her and she is somewhat enamoured of this gentleman prince but at this point, all Ruo Xi wants is to avoid getting sucked into the 8th prince’s tragic fate.
The prince is disappointed and shows it openly, withdrawing his grip. He looks away from the uneasy Ruo Xi, unable to understand her reluctance but tells her that he will not force her. That it is up to her. He asks her to return to her room. 8th advises Ruo Xi not to dress like she had during 10th’s birthday. That if she does not want to attract Kangxi’s eyes, the simpler the garb the more effective it is to avoid being noticed.
Ruo Xi stands, thinking as she walks away that she is unwilling, she is unwilling to everything.
Kangxi, 8th, 10th and anything else because all she wants is someone who truly loves her, cares for her all the time. She does not want to be a married lady of leisure who waits around for her turn to be loved.
She is a person, not an object! She does not want to be shoved around, being bestowed here and there at someone else’s will.
The Maertai sisters go shopping for jewellery. Ruo Lan informs her younger sister that the shop they are in is well known. It is best to buy all Ruo Xi needs in one go instead of wasting time window shopping.
Ruo Xi notes that this is the fourth place they had stopped at and each time, Ruo Lan had said the same thing. Ruo Lan rebukes her sister, saying that these are all for her benefit, necessities needed for her sojourn in the palace. So how could Ruo Xi be tired when the older sister is not tired yet. She reminds Ruo Xi that being living in the palace is not like living at home. It is prudent to buy what she needs so she does not suffer any lack.
The shopkeeper shows the sisters a box of earrings, saying it is the best in the shop. A voice pipes up asking what kind of good deal. It is Ming Yu with Ming Hui.
They exchange the appropriate greetings before Ming Yu eagerly snatches up the earrings, asking her sister what she thinks. Ming Hui admires it, saying it is an excellent pair. Ming Yu says her sister has excellent taste and demands to buy the jewellery. Her expression openly gloats and dares Ruo Xi to react.
Ruo Xi remembers 8th’s advice about being discreet and keeping a low profile to avoid being noticed by Kangxi. She smiles and says that the earring indeed does suit Ming Yu
Expecting trouble, Ruo Xi’s amiable responses catches everyone off guard.
Her sister stares at Ruo Xi while the Gorolo sisters are stumped. Ruo Xi suggests going to a different store since she finds the pieces too resplendent for her taste. Ruo Lan quietly agrees and they leaves the other pair of speechless sisters.
Qiao Hui laughs as they leave the store and Ruo Lan asks why she laughs. The maid replies that she is sharing Ruo Lan’s amusement. Softly laughing, Ruo Lan compliments her sister, saying that Ruo Xi is starting to grow up.
Ruo Xi tells Ruo Lan she has decided to learn self restraint since she realises that there are many bossy people in the palace. Ruo Lan is glad.
The younger sister asks Ruo Lan not to worry about her. That she will take good care of herself, and not bring trouble on their father and Ruo Lan. Happy beyond words, Ruo Lan points to more stores, intending to shop there.
Ruo Xi laughingly protests, asking if Ruo Lan intends to buy everything in the capital so that Ruo Xi could bring it into the palace! Ruo Lan is in great spirits and playfully tweaks Ruo Xi’s nose, “Fine, fine. Let’s go back.”
Such a charming sisterly moment. How could Ruo Xi not respond to the warm hearted love that Ruo Lan shows her.
On the other hand, Ming Yu is disgruntled that Ruo Xi did not start a fight with her over the earrings. ‘Daredevil 13th Sister’ is not even trying anything! She wonders if Ruo Xi is planning something.
Ming Hui remarks that Ruo Xi knows how to endear herself just like her sister. Why would she mind such a small matter. Ming Yu is exasperated asking why her proud sister is selling herself short. Ming Hui tosses the earrings box onto the table. She says Ruo Xi is praiseworthy. Intelligent and careful, Ruo Xi is not rash and uses care with whatever she does with. She also has a good sense of propriety. This is what makes her so likeable.
If because of this, the Emperor favours her, then her position would be greatly enhanced. This would also raise Ruo Lan’s status and Ruo Lan will be able to sit at the same level as Di Fujin. Ming Hui is afraid of this happening. She sighs, rubbing at her brow.
Ruo Lan and Ruo Xi sits facing each other. It is time to send Ruo Xi into the palace.
Ruo Lan looks upset and the younger sister comforts her saying that both of them are still within the city and not heavens apart.
Ruo Lan points out that although it is merely a wall apart, it will be difficult for them to meet each other on a whim or desire.
Ruo Xi attempts to push her sister and 8th together, saying that the prince had bRuoght up Ruo Lan in a conversation. She tells Ruo Lan that 8th had seen Ruo Lan before the marriage proposal. He fell in love with Ruo Lan at first sight.
She says that during her time in the 8th household, everyone says Ruo Lan is not favoured by 8th but Ruo Xi has never seen 8th ill treating her elder sister. She starts to say that during the daily dealings but Ruo Lan interrupts angrily, asking Ruo Xi to drop the discussion.
Ruo Lan says although it is fated that 8th and herself are married, love is not part of their destiny.
8th arrives to send Ruo Xi. He tells Ruo Lan not to carry a heavy heart. He will carry out what he had promised to the best of his abilities. Ruo Lan thanks 8th coolly though her gratitude is unmistaken. 8t’s personal servant will send Ruo Xi to the palace.
Ruo Xi travels light, a small bundle is all the manservant carries before 8th urges Ruo Xi to depart since the hour is late. 8th steps out to give the women some privacy.
The younger woman launchs herself at Ruo Lan, giving the slender sister a tight embrace while Qiao Hui looks on sadly.
They hug and run light pats across each other before Ruo Lan breaks away, pushing Ruo Xi and urges her sister to leave. She turns away from Ruo Xi, her heartbreak in her tears.
Qiao Hui sends Ruo Xi to the door, both weeping. 8th waits outside and as she nears, reaches out to hold her hand.
She tries to break away but his grip tightens and he looks into her face, telling her not to be afraid. That he will arrange everything. And she will not suffer any grievance.
At this point, Ruo Xi has no thoughts of being with 8th because her modern sensibility forbids her from accepting her brother-in-law as a prospective lover. Yet despite her refusal, 8th is willing to protect and secure her safety even from his own father.
He holds her hand a little while longer before releasing it. 8th watches Ruo Xi leave, heaving a heavy sigh.
In the palace, Li De Chuan (the king’s personal eunuch) introduces himself to new intake of palace maids. The palace maids including Ruo Xi are dressed in hot pink curtsy. He explains the process saying that all of them are been honoured to be inducted into the palace as Xiu Nu. Whether they have the fortune to be royal concubines or remain as palace maids, they are all there to serve the Emperor.
He tells them that four words are important while living in the palace, ‘Mind your P’s and Q’s.’ In other words to be discreet in word and deed and careful in their personal conduct.
Li De Chuan says he has repeated these same four words every three years but few pay attention to this. He hopes they will not disappoint him. From that day on, they will be trained on how to conduct themselves and help in the palace’s work.
Even those who are not selected for the Imperial harem will remain as palace maids until they are twenty or twenty four years old. If the Emperor grants permission, then and only then will these palace maids be released and matchmade by their own family and clan.
He introduces the senior maid and reminds them that they have to work more, work better, speak less and listen little. They send Li De Chuan off.
Promptly most of the palace maids break rank and starts to gossip with each other. Ruo Xi stands in place, quietly waiting. One of the candidates wonders how long they would be there since she does not want to be maid for as long as she is inside the palace.
The senior palace maid reprimands the gathered young ladies, saying that they have already forgotten what Li De Chuan had just said about minding themselves. They will rest that day and be assigned their roles the next day. She reminds them to be extremely careful in how they serve their assigned masters and mistresses.
Dismissed, the young women drift away though the senior maid pauses beside Ruo Xi. muttering that the palace is not like home. There are too many eyes watching. She asks Ruo Xi to be careful and that she will keep an eye out for Ruo Xi. Ruo Xi curtsies, thanking the senior maid.
To herself, Ruo Xi reminds herself that she has to be a credit to 8th. In the palace, she can only depend on herself.
After court, 8th holds 14th back and asks for a favour. 14th says 8th should not be polite and asks 8th how he could help. 8th asks 14th to ask his mother’s help during the Xiu Nu selection.
4th and 14th’s mother is Imperial Consort De (De Fei). He hopes Imperial Consort De could ask the Empress to strike Ruo Xi’s name off the Preparatory Concubine’s list.
14th smiles in a knowing manner as 8th continues, explaining that his own mother Consort Liang is willing but does not have the clout to help her son. 14th smiles saying that since 8th has asked, being his younger brother it will be difficult to reject the request.
He however stipulates that he needs to know whether this is for Ruo Xi’s sake or is it for the sake of his future 8th sister-in-law. He wants 8th to make it clear.
8th grins and admits that he wants to marry Ruo Xi but that only if she is willing.
14th replies since it’s for his future sister-in-law, he will give it his best shot.
8th asks for discretion since Ruo Xi has been slated to become a Xiu Nu, one step before the actual seleection. Based on tradition, the horoscopes of the Emperor and the ladies-in-question are compared for compatibility.
14th indicates he understands and asks his brother to have confidence in him.
Soon after, 14th visits his mother De Fei’s. He greets De Fei and then his own blood brother, 4th who is also visiting. Dismissing the maid, he turns to De Fei who asks him to sit by him.
De Fei has a deeper love for 14th. It is apparent in how she treats her younger son. 4th is sitting quite far apart from his own mother.
14th promptly tells De Fei that he visits with a motive. That he needs his mother’s help.
De Fei is surprised, saying that 14th is not the only one who is asking her help. Such a coincidence! She asks what 14th needs.
14th replies, 8th’s little sister-in-law, Ruo Xi. About the Xiu Nu selection. De Fei is amazed and amused.
4th flicks an eye in 14th’s direction. De Fei remarks that both brothers are asking help for the same person. 14th’s gaze darts towards 4th and the elder prince looks down as their mother gurgles. She is delighted.
From this short exchange, it is apparent which brother is the apple of De Fei’s eye. It is also apparent that both brothers are not close and are wary of each other. I wonder how this happened. They are blood brothers yet are much closer to other princes; 14th with the other princes in 8th’s camp and 4th with 13th.
De Fei clarifies if Ruo Xi is the same young lady Kangxi had praised during the previous family gathering, that is the mid-autumn party.
14th nods and hms. 4th is quiet.
De Fei observes, “Oh. Both of you are brothers. Yet when you meet, you are both so reserved and formal with each other. My heart grows heavy when I see that. But this is just marvellous. Both of you are pleading for the same person. This is indeed a rare event.” She gives a tiny laugh and muses what is special about Ruo Xi to make both brothers concern themselves over her.
A reasonable question since it concerns both of her sons. Perhaps she wonders if they are interested in Ruo Xi for their own sakes. I am convinced that 4th does harbour some feelings for Ruo Xi, nothing deep. Perhaps fascination with her unconventional reactions and quirky remarks?
4th’s face is calm, listening with an air of caution as 14th replies that there is nothing special between himself and Ruo Xi. It is just that he had spend time with her during the past few months and discovers that Ruo Xi is a candid and upright person. She had also mentioned that she did not want to be a royal concubine.
He says he thinks that it might be better if she does not get selected. If she has to face his Emperor Father regularly, there is a great likelihood that she will get into trouble given her personality. That is why 14th has come to ask his mother for the favour. To have her name removed from the Preparative Concubine list.
4th’s mouth twitches at 14th’s observation
De Fei laughs merrily saying this is not a difficult matter. What is more difficult is having both blood brothers agree on anything. This is the first time she has seen this happen.
She slowly replies, “This request … I will help!” The emphasis towards the end highlights her delight at the double plea.
14th says that his mother really loves him.
De Fei gazes at 14th. Seeing 14th’s delight, she muses if it might be that her younger son is interested in Ruo Xi himself? 4th tilts an intent eye in his brother’s direction at the comment, thoughtfully watching as 14th answers in the negative vehemently. He flicks his own glance at 4th and murmurs to De Fei that his brother is still there.
4th smiles and adds that since their mother has agreed to help, perhaps she might be gracious enough to complete the favour. He suggests that she should request Ruo Xi for her own staff.
14th agrees with enthusiasm, saying that his brother has made a brilliant suggestion. Their mother leans in and then agrees again, saying that as long as 14th says it is good, then it is fine.
4th smiles politely from the side.
De Fei notes that she does indeed lack an intelligent and considerate maid. She adds that what would make really happy if both 4th and 14th are able to act in accord as they had today – being in one mind about an issue. Both brothers bow and say they understand. De Fei grabs 14th’s arm and smiles with joy. She does not even spare a glance in her elder son’s direction.
Such an obvious display of favourtism towards 14th. Poor 4th. I wonder how much this unequal maternal love influence the 4th prince.
The brothers look at each other over their mother’s head.
Both leave at the same time, walking side by side. 14th remarks that 4th’s plea must be at 13th’s behest. 4th replies it is, saying that since 13th asked and because it is a simple task
, he did not see any reason not to help. He asks in turn who 14th is helping.
The younger brother replies that Ruo Xi and himself are good friends. Regardless of her will, he will always try to help her. 4th smiles and walks off, leaving 14th in his wake.
8th paces the floor, anxiously waiting for his mother, Consort Liang’s return. She enters and he strides towards her, asking how the discussion went.
His mother sends her attendant away and then replies that Ruo Xi’s name has been kicked out of the concubine selection list. 8th is delighted! However his mother appears troubled.
Her son asks why she is sighing.
Consort Liant replies that she did not anticipate both Imperial Consort De and Imperial Consort Hui’s insistence on having Ruo Xi for their entourage. She does not understand why Hui Fei would do so. Unwilling to favour one or the other of the equal-ranked consorts, the Empress decided to assign Ruo Xi to the Emperor as a tea maid.
8th exclaims, “Beside Emperor Father?”
He is devastated at the sudden twist in events and in turn wonders why Hui Fei wants Ruo Xi.
His mother says she enquired quietly. She hesitates and then carefully looks at her son, “I heard … that Ming Hui paid a visit to Hui Fei.”
8th’s face tightens and he looks furious.
There goes his plan to extradicate Ruo Xi from the palace and reinstall her back to his side. Or at least back under his roof.
An eunuch guides Ruo Xi to where 8th is waiting before standing aside to keep watch. Ruo Xi greets the rince and he asks her to stand. He tells her that her name has been removed from the selection list. That there will not be any chance of her being chosen for the Emperor’s bed. She beams but 8th looks unhappy. Ruo Xi asks if something is wrong.
8th tells her that De Fei and Hui Fei wanted her at the same time. The Empress did not want to offend either party and had arranged for her to serve by the Emperor’s side as a tea maid instead. He tells Ruo Xi that it is difficult for him to try and take anyone sent to serve Kang Xi directly out from the palace. He apologises.
Ruo Xi answers that perhaps this is for the best. She asks 8th not to blame himself. She might not have many skills but surely serving and learning about tea is not beyond her ability.
8th says that it will be an even greater challenge to meet her whenever he wants. He reaches for her hands, wistful disappointment openly dislay as he asks Ruo Xi to wait for him. He tells her that he will find a way to bring her away. He asks her to be careful with what she says and does in front of his father. 8th further tells her that if she faces any problesms, he will try his best to mediate on her behalf.
She leaves her hands in his grip, struggling with her own disappointment but she says that since she is already in the palace, she will do her best. She repeats the advice 4th had given her many months before.
8th gazes at Ruo Xi, longing in his expression while his thumb lightly strokes her wrist. Ruo Xi looks down, touched but she is anxious and nervous.
Ruo Xi is troubled. And I can guess why. 8th is her brother-in-law. She considers him a prime example of perfect manhood. And this handsome eligible man has openly expressed his love and desire for her. In her own time, it is taboo for them to develop any romantic feelings. Yet now, in this age, it is not unknow for sisters to share the same husband.
The Imperial Study is quiet as the Emperor works with Le De Chuan and Wang Xi in attendance.
Ruo Xi walks up with tea. Quietly, she grabs Kang Xi’s cup at the same time he does.
There is a silent eye exchange before Ruo Xi releases her grip.
Is that trepidation in her eyes? Is that recognition in his? Displeasure at behind disturbed?
She the wordlessly offers the fresh tea she is carrying and he accepts without a word as well.
As Ruo Xi carries away his stale tea, Li De Chuan whispers to her and asks her to ready more tea and pastries. He tells her it should be send over at once when the Emperor is hungry.
Ruo Xi dips her head, acknowledging the instruction. As she starts to move again, she overhears the head eunuch mumbling to himself about how Kang Xi had been overworking himself the past few days.
Li De Chuan is genuinely concerned about the Emperor. Ruo Xi pauses. Looking over her shoulder, she examines the Emperor with compassion. After all, he is almost in his fifties and still so caught up in his work that he is ignoring his health.
Perhaps Kang Xi reminds her of her own father. Perhaps it is from sympathy. What happens next reveals how soft-hearted and generous Ruo Xi is. Even when she should fear and does fear, she dares to offer comfort.
Without even considering herself, Ruo Xi impulsively blurts, “Your Majesty. It is time to rest. You could still continue working tomorrow.” Her voice is gentle, her eyes soft and reflects her concern for the Emperor.
Li De Chuan and Wang Xi freezes, staring at Ruo Xi who appears oblivious to their eyes. Her own eyes are gentle, touched with sympathy and concern as her gaze meets the Emperor’s stare. She gives a tiny nod, encouraging him to consider resting. Kang Xi is quiet, pen lightly balanced in his right hand.
In that frozen tableau, silence hangs long before the two eunuchs throw themselves on the ground. At that instance, Ruo Xi shakes free from her reverie and realises what she had done. She drops to her knees and begs for forgiveness.
Her lips twist, berating herself for her own stupidity before she looks though her lashes at Kang Xi.
Kang Xi inspects Ruo Xi and then gives a soft snort, “We thought for an instant we saw the 10th princess. Before she married, this is exactly how she would nag at me to rest.” He motions to all present, asking them to stand.
The three of them thanks the Emperor. Kang Xi looks away, stacking the documents together and asks Li De Chuan to have them put away. He further tells the eunuch to prepare for him to retire. The head eunuch acknowledges the order.
Kang Xi faces Ruo Xi, who is standing with her head hanging down. He scours her face and then remarks that looking at her right then, she really lives up to her ‘Daredevil 13th Sister’ nickname.
Without another word, the Emperor steps away to Ruo Xi’s great relief.
I had been wondering if Kang Xi is attracted to Ruo Xi. Do I hear an ‘ew’ response? Well why not? He’s not that old. Really. Perhaps he likes her. He had praised her during the Mid-autumn gathering and had made especial mention of her to his sons over the New Year. Not enough to bed Ruo Xi. Afterall she has been removed from the Xiu Nu list. But enough that he is lenient with her impertinence.
Golden red leaves drift outside Ruo Xi’s quarters. It must be at least six months since she had first entered the palace. As she arrange trays and trays of dried plants, Ruo Xi repeats, “‘Mind my p’s and q’s’. When would I learn to mind my own business?” She looks disgruntled.
Li De Chuan and Wang Xi enters the tea room and the head eunuch calls her. He addresses her as ‘Miss Ruo Xi’, showing respect to the young Maertai daughter with the addition of the polite prefix.
Hastily, Ruo Xi stands up and curtsies, “Li Gong Gong.”
The head eunuch says that the previous night’s incident has made him look at her in a completely different light. He exclaims in delight, saying that Ruo Xi must really be a lucky charm.
Ruo Xi shakes her head, saying that he must be mistaken. She was lucky that nothing bad happened. Thinking about the incident still makes her break out in a cold sweat.
Wang Xi interjects, saying Ruo Xi should not be modest. He notes that his teacher (Li De Chuan) almost never compliments anyone. Even he himself only receives rebukes and reprimands. The head eunuch gives Wang Xi a dirty look and the younger man retreats, looking sheepish and puckers his mouth.
Ruo Xi smiles.
Li De Chuan says that it is not only because of the previous night. He had been observing Ruo Xi carefully. He notices that she does everything with caution, taking care of all her chores with meticulous attention. She does not gossip or say much. He says that these attributes together with her ‘go-all-out’ spirit makes her very suitable to serve the Emperor directly.
Ruo Xi is speechless. Her expression is indecipherable. Is this promotoion a good thing for her? She is unsure. This new position would definitely put her in the limelight.
The head eunuch calls two other palace maids to enter. He informs the new arrivals that from that day on, they will be Ruo Xi’s personal assistants. He asks them to learn well from Ruo Xi and that having them supervised by Ruo Xi puts his mind at ease.
The two maids curtsy to Ruo Xi and soon after, the two eunuchs leave.
Ruo Xi asks who is Yu Tan and who is Yun Xiang. They introduce themselves, addressing Ruo Xi as ‘Miss Ruo Xi’. Discomforted, Ruo Xi asks them to address each other by their names. They immediately reject the idea but Ruo Xi says that she will eventually find a way to make them agree to this request.
A new eunuch enters and looks for Ruo Xi. He holds a brocade parcel. Ruo Xi asks the other women to bring in the leaves sunning in the outside courtyard.
After the maids leave, the eunuch closes in and softly informs Ruo Xi that the package is from 8th. After handing it over, he takes his leave. She opens the parcel and finds a handkerchief with finely embroidered jasmine flowers as well as a book about tea.
She flips a page. Inside are drawings of landscape and different types of tea leaves. Pensively, Ruo Xi closes the book. After a short moment, she holds the handkerchief against herself and stares thoughtfully at the falling autumn leaves.
She slowly smiles, and then looks down at the gifts once more.
Meanwhile back in the 8th residence, the prince is having tea with Ruo Lan. He updates his wife about Ruo Xi’s progress, saying that she had been promoted as the Emperor’s personal tea supervisor. 8th appears confident that given a few more years, he would be able to bring Ruo Xi away from the palace.
Ruo Lan coolly thanks 8th for his care and concern.
A maid from Ming Hui’s quarters approaches. She greets both and then relays a message from the Di Fujin asking if the 8th prince would go over to her courtyard.
8th coldly answers, instructing the maid to tell Ming Hui that he has too much to do and has no time to spend with her at the moment. He tells her that he would consider visiting Ming Hui at some later day.
No time? Yet he is sitting with Ruo Lan and having tea. Ming Hui is being punished for interfering with 8th’s plans for Ruo Xi.
Ruo Lan manages to hide her surprise but 8th retains a stiff, unyielding mien after the maid leaves. There is a strained silence as 8th continues to drink his tea.
13th visits with 4th. Crossing the room, he tells 4th that he was worried initially when De Fei was not able to get Ruo Xi for her own. Now he is please at how well the ‘wee lass’ is doing in the palace. She is certainly someone who cannot be ignored.
4th replies that if 13th has the time to chat about such inconsequential matters, he might use that time to consider how to help the Crown Prince.
4th notes that in the recent years, the Crown Prince has been growing more and more bold. He is concerned that the Crown Prince will get into trouble.
Exasperated, 13th answers that no matter how outrageously he himself acts, it is mainly him overindulging in wine and women. However, the Crown Prince takes advantage of their Emperor Father’s love and has become wilful, arrogant and domineering. The Crown Prince acts as he likes without worrying about consequences.
Everyone dubs 13th the ‘Daredevil 13th’ but 13th takes his hat off to the Crown Prince’s recklessness. The younger prince tells 4th that there is no point worrying about the Crown Prince at the moment. They should wait and see the turn of events before taking any actions.
4th silently agrees.
13th picks up his cup and then pauses as something strikes him. He remembers something and with a overly casual air asks, “Oh right, 4th Ge. What is your favourite tea?”
4th absently replies, “Taiping Houkui.”
The younger prince then asks what his favourite pastry is. 4th answers in the same manner, “Yu Kou Gao.”
13th repeats the two answers and then adds a third question about 4th’s favourite colour.
At this point, 4th looks up and rests his arm on the table. Leaning closer to 13th, he examines the younger man’s face and then asks why 13th is asking these questions.
Taken aback, 13th backpedals and then grins, toying with his teacup and says it is nothing. 13th remarks that although they spend a lot of time together, he is not aware of his brother’s likes and dislikes. Hence he asks out of curiosity.
The interplay of expressions on 4th’s face is fascinating to watch! It seems that 4th is able to read 13th very well and perhaps he suspects the real reason behind 13th’s questions.
Ruo Xi instructs Yu Tan and Yun to pay attention to the Emperor’s and his sons’ preferences. She rattles off the various princes’ favourite tea.
Wang Xi hastily enters, calling for Ruo Xi.
He and later the other two maids all addresses her as ‘Jie Jie’ rather than the formal ‘Miss Ruo Xi’. This hints at how close they all are to Ruo Xi.
Ruo Xi hurries forward and Wang Xi informs her that the Emperor is coming back from court. Ruo Xi wonders why Wang Xi is even bothered by this and reminds him to be careful or his teacher would have reason to scold him again,
He tells her that someone in court had made a complaint about the Crown Prince. Ruo Xi aboutfaces rapidly and asks him to tell her more. Wang Xi tells her that it is Li De Chuan who send him ahead to warn them to be extra careful when serving the Emperor.
Ruo Xi sends thanks to Li De Chuan and then instructs the other two maids to be extra careful in the hall when on duty that day.
She thinks to herself. Although the Crown Prince’s immorality is not excessive, he is personally brought up by Kang Xi. Being the most loved of all the sons, yet to be the most disappointing. The one who is most hurt is still the Emperor. Ruo Xi sighs.
Heading the maids, Ruo Xi sets tea beside Kang Xi as he asks his sons what they thought about what was brought up by Li Bu during the morning court.
All the sons remain quiet. To Kang Xi’s left sits 4th, 13th and 14th. To his right are 8th, 9th and 10th. Their expressions are a cypher.
Kang Xi looks up from his tea, eyeing the princes and 4th slowly speaks up.
He feels that the Crown Prince is generous towards his subordinates. It is likely that some unscrupulous followers are taking advantage of the Crown Prince and embezzling without his knowledge.
10th snorts saying that a lowly official would only dare to steal tribute goods if he has a powerful backer. He tells 4th that his explanation is a little strange. 10th looks very pleased with himself while Ruo Xi who is standing behind him silently scolds him ‘nitwit’!
Ruo Xi knows 4th will be Emperor and thinks 10th foolish for needling the future ruler.
10th continues, pointing out that the Crown Prince and 4th get along well. He starts to say that maybe the 4th prince might be involved as well. Ruo Xi is mad at 10th’s frankness and deliberately bumps the hot cup of tea against his shoulder.
Quickly, she drops to her knees and apologises saying she deserves to die for the mistake. The Emperor glances over at Ruo Xi while the other princes watch.
10th sees it is Ruo Xi and brushes over Wang Xi’s concern. He smiles and says he is fine.
Li De Chuan reprimands Ruo Xi and sends her out of the room.
The maids attempt to comfort Ruo Xi. Yu Tan asks what happened and if there would be any fallout. Ruo Xi assures Yu Tan that the Emperor is a good ruler and treats his subordinates well. She adds that even if she gets whacked, it is worthwhile.
The head eunuch enters just then. They stand up and greets Li Gong Gong. He instructs Yu Tan and Yun Xiang to leave the room and then walks up to Rui Xi. He says he always thought she was a careful person and asks why she messed up today.
Ruo Xi bows her head and says she is ready for her punishment. He replies that he’ll deduct next month’s stipend. She thanks Li De Chuan. He softly comments that the palace cannot tolerate many kind-hearted people. He tells her that if she interferes again, what would be taken away could be her life.
Le De Chuan’s warning gives her cause to consider what she had done. She is afraid yet she cannot stop caring for her friend, the 10th prince.
She stands outside the study as the princes come out. 10th sees her and stalks forward, pausing when he sees her expression. Concerned, he asks why she is looking so miserable.
Ruo Xi keeps her silence. 10th huffs, saying that he has not even blamed her for the hot tea and she is on her high horse. She murmurs that she has been fined a month’s stipend.
10th laughs that she is upset over a fine. Ruo Xi stiffly replies why shouldn’t she lose her temper. To 10th, the stipend is a small matter but she says she has plans for the silver. Besides, she has never been punished. As the supervisor, how would she face the others bearing this misdeed and punishment.
The prince coaxes her, saying it is only a single month’s worth of silver. He tells her if she wants anything, then tell him. He will help her bring it into the palace.
Ruo Xi grins. She sighs and then smiles quietly at 10th. She tells him give her whatever he wants to give her, she will not be mad at him anymore.
It is fun to watch 10th and Ruo Xi. They are always so sweet with each other. The brief interlude eases Ruo Xi’s mind.
4th and 13th step out and 8th calls, “4th Ge.” He notes that Ruo Xi’s accident is a happy coincidence. 8th turns in 10th and Ruo Xi’s direction, 13th following the glance while 4th is impassive.
8th says that 10th deserves to be scalded because he was tactless and almost implicated 4th. 4th gives a tiny smile and says that brothers should take care of each other, even more so when the one in trouble is the Crown Prince.
9th is looking at 10th and Ruo Xi, walking closer to the other princes as 8th agrees wiht 4th, saying that is so and that the Crown Prince is fortunate to have 4th looking out for him.
9th then adds that there is also Ruo Xi the lucky star. 4th flicks a thoughtful glance in Ruo Xi’s direction. 9th then hotly calls out, “Let’s go! Why are you still hanging around here?”
10th calls out that he is coming, grinning at Ruo Xi and says he has to go first. 4th and 13th is a couple of steps behind 8th, 9th and 10th but 14th marches up to Ruo Xi. Ruo Xi is smiling as she watches the others depart.
14th angrily asks Ruo Xi what is her intentions towards 8th. She looks baffled. He says that he saw her deliberately bumping the cup into 10th, and asks why Ruo Xi helped 4th.
Flustered, Ruo Xi replies that it is not how 14th describes it.
14th replies that whether she helped 4th deliberately or without intention, 8th regards her with sincerity and that she knows this. He tells her that if she cares for 8th, she should not betray his brother. He glares at Ruo Xi before turning away.
Ruo Xi is chagrinned. Her innocent desire to help her friend and reduce the impact of 10th’s tactlessness is misunderstood by all the princes including 4th and 13th. Seeing his artless naivety, I can understand why Ruo Xi wants to protect 10th. He is the only one amongst these princes whose laughter, tears and anger are sincere.
This is another pivotal point in this story. More thoughts about this at some point.
Ruo Xi wonders if 8th would also misunderstand. Since she entered the palace, 4th and herself have had nothing to do with each other. Not even exchanging a word. She tries to convince herself that 8th could not possibly misunderstand.
This inner dialogue hints at Ruo Xin’s personal sword of Damocles. It also reveals that Ruo Xi does care for 8th.
Back in 8th’s residence, Ming Hui waylays her husband. He spots her and his expression turns cold, head turning aside and he is ready to pass her without stopping.
What a hard man this prince is when he is angered.
Ming Hui reaches out, holding him and asks why 8th won’t see her. He does not answer.
She asks if it is because of Ruo Xi, then she admits she went to see Hui Fei. Ming Hui states that she asked Hui Fei to bring Ruo Xi under her wings and claims that she wanted to help Ruo Xi avoid being selected for the Emperor’s harem. That she did this … for Ruo Xi’s happiness.
8th replies that Ming Hui feared Ruo Xi’s ascension to a Royal Consort and that Ruo Lan’s status would rise because of Ruo Xi’s imminent promotion. He knows Ming Hui is afraid she would lose out to Ruo Lan and lose her Di Fujin’s status.
He turns on her, angrily adding that if she had not been so selfish, Ruo Xi would have already left the palace. Instead of being trapped by the Emperor’s side. 8th looks away and in a milder voice says that he does not wish to quarrel with Ming Hui. He tells her not to come look for him without his permission.
Without another word, he twirls and leaves his wife behind. Ming Hui fights to keep her tears in as she watches him depart.
Hard, hard perceptive man.
Ruo Xi is in the garden, picking flowers when she feels something or someone behind her.
She turns and 4th steps up. Ruo Xi mutters, ‘Ice Face!’
Perturbed, she takes a deep breath and then curtsies to 4th.
4th stands and stares at Ruo Xi thoughtfully, one hand behind his back toying with his queue while the other hand sits against his front.
He does not say a word and Ruo Xi fidgets under his gaze.
Suddenly, in a deapan manner, 4th lets loose with ‘Taiping Houkui. Yu Kou Gao. The green after rain. Paintings of flowers and butterflies against a white ground. Like dogs. Dislike cats…”
Ruo Xi’s face is a cypher as she listens.
“… Dislike chilli. Don’t like to booze.” 4th pauses and then says that 13th should have conveyed all of this to her.
Ruo Xi scolds 13th silently for his carelessness. She had asked him to find out about 4th’s preferences without letting 4th realize. Sarcastically she wordlessly salutes 13th for his unsuccessive efforts.
4th tells Ruo Xi that in the future if she has any other questions, she should just ask him directly. He asks her to ask now. Almost daring her.
Do I sense irony and amusement in his eyes?
Ruo Xi tilts her eyes up, watching 4th and thinks to herself that 4th has presented himself to the gun’s mouth. Since he asked her to ask, it will be a wasted chance to find out more. She tells herself to charge forward and stammers a question, “Which colour do you hate?”
4th replies black.
She throws out question after question. Favourite incense? Favourite flower? Favourite fruit?
He answers promptly, Gardenia. Shuize magnolia lilies. Grape.
She pauses, inspecting 4th’s grape-coloured clothes and as he drops his eyes to look at himself, she quickly hides a smile.
She continues. What weather makes you happy? Drizzle.
Ruo Xi glances skywards, before asking what kind of weather does he dislike. He answers scorching hot day. She rounds her lips and there is a ‘no wonder’ look on her face, mumbling to herself just like an ice cube.
4th frowns and repeats the partial word he overhears, piece of …? She asks happily if 4th likes ice. The prince says yes.
Ruo Xi grins wide and the questions fly quicker and quicker. Favourite book? What does he most fear? Favourite pastime? Favourite game? Favourite poem?
His answers are as quick. Jin Gang Jing*. A woman’s tears. Calligraphy. He replies he does not play at all. Wang Wei’s poems.
She asks what about his favourite song?
There is a long drawn out silence and 4th looks at Ruo Xi with an undescrible expression. Then he answers, “Pass.”
This is an amusing interlude. I would never have guessed that 4th would be so open and indulgent with Ruo Xi. His expression and his stance indicate a person of stoic deposition. A strict and stern disciplinarian and someone who always follows rules and tradition, yet in this conversation, 4th almost banters with Ruo Xi and even ends the 20-questions game with a little handswipe.
In her past conversations with 4th, Ruo Xi had always displayed a wary mien and taken great care with her words but in this exchange, her bubbly and fun-loving personality dominates and her face wreathed with joyous smiles.
Kang Xi declares that there is the investigation into the accusation of the Crown Prince taking tribute goods for his personal use has been concluded. That unscrupulous underlings had made use of the Crown Prince’s name to embezzle the goods. The officials in question had already been send over to the Justice section for deeper investigation.
The Crown Prince thanks his father’s grace in clearing his name.
The Emperor tells the Crown Prince that although the incident does not have any direct link to the prince, the Crown Prince still needs to bear some responsibility. Kang Xi says that the Crown Prince did not manage his underlings well and is too generous with them, leading them to abuse the privilege of their office. He reminds the Crown Prince that to make use of the virtuous and the faithful is the way to good government.
The Crown Prince accepts the gentle rebuke and says he will remember his Emperor Father’s lesson. He adds that he realises something else from what his father had said.
Looking out onto the room, the Crown Prince says that he realises from this incident that among the officials and his brothers, there are praiseworthy upright men of courage who would not pander to corruption. He says such men are worthy and are the pillars holding up the Qing empire. He gestures to 10th and says, “Especially 10th brother.”
10th looks stunned, a little afraid even at the compliment while the other princes are either impassive and slightly incredulous. 8th looks back at 10th while Kang Xi notes that although the East Sea is broad and deep, its foundation is the hundreds of rivers and streams. That the majestic Five Great Mountains is also made up of dirt.
The Emperor praises the Crown Prince for his realization and says that this is his empire’s fortune and his people’s luck. He decides to promote the officials by one grade, and to increase 10th’s stipend by two thousand silver.
10th kneels and thanks his father for the reward. The Crown Prince also thanks his father’s grace and adds that he had reflected on his actions with regards to the case of the misappropriated tribute goods. He says he wondered other than his leniency with his subordinates, what other reasons could have contributed to the misunderstanding that he would have dared to act so badly.
Kang Xi asks what his thoughts were. The Crown Prince replies that he thinks it could be because there is a communication and generational gap between his brothers and himself. He laments that it is unfortunate.
Kang Xi seems saddened by the Crown Prince’s observation. Both 4th and 8th are watchful, carefully keeping their gaze on the Crown Prince.
The Crown Prince continues, suggesting that misunderstandings could be avoided if relations between the brothers are improved. He then says he has an idea if their father allows, suggesting that the various princes be allowed to join them on the Emperor’s annual inspection.
The Emperor remarks that the Crown Prince’s suggestion falls in line with his own intention. That it is only when the family works together, will there be success in any endeavours. He tells his sons to remember.
Kang Xi thinks for a while and tells the Crown Prince to take care of the rewards and the Inspection, asking 4th to assist his brother.
4th and the Crown Prince walk together and the Crown Prince tells 4th he is is delighted at how happy his father looked after he made the suggestion. He also tells 4th that he did not believe his younger brother when 4th told him that the Emperor would not punish the Crown Prince for the case.
The Crown Prince thought 4th was just consoling him but he praises 4th for being able to understand their father’s heart even better than himself.
4th notes that Kang Xi has always been broad-minded about those under him and that the Emperor takes especial good care of his heir. He points out that if their father does not views him favourably, why would the Emperor intend to pass the throne to the Crown Prince.
The Crown Prince says, “Well spoken. If I did not have 4th to be my advisor, I fear I have no hope of gracefully snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Beating 8th and his cohorts!”
He is bitter.
4th waves off the praise, saying that all he wants is to help their Emperor Father and the Crown Prince. He asks the Crown Prince not to make a mountain out of a molehill and affect everyone’s relations.
The Crown Prince rejects 4th’s quiet suggestion, saying that 4th is considerate of all the brother’s feelings but 8th and his gang feels differently about this.
4th tries again, saying that he believes 8th had no intention of offending the Crown Prince. That the furor was caused by 10th’s tactless comments. He points out that 10th’s impulsive temper and lack of foresight is well known by everyone.
The Crown Prince tells 4th that sometimes he is too kind-hearted, like a buddha and that it is essential to be on the defensive at all times. He asks 4th if he is sold out by someone, would he still help his betrayer counts his coins.
The heir says this matter is not simple and he believes their father has the same thought. 4th asks him what he means.
The Crown Prince points that there is so much leading back to him in the misappropriation case that the Emperor could not possibly be aware of this. Yet the Emperor did not accuse his heir of the crime. He asks 4th why their father would do so.
4th impassively asks why.
The elder prince says that in addition to 4th’s reasoning, the Emperor is taking the opportunity to make a point. Especially to 8th and his supporters. Telling them clearly who is the future emperor of the Qing dynasty. He believes that the Emperor is implicityly warning the others to best take care of themselves and not to continue working against his heir.
The Crown Prince is determined to even the score with 8th and asks 4th if he has any ideas.
* See Notes for explanation
The Emperor wives are ranked as follows :
– Empress (皇后) – 1
– Imperial Honoured Consort (皇貴妃) – 1
– Honoured Consort (貴妃) – 2
– Consort (妃) – 4
– Imperial Concubine (嬪) – 6
– Honoured or Worthy Lady (貴人) – unlimited
– Preparative Concubine (秀女) – unlimited
– Female Attendant first rank (常在) – unlimited
– Female Attendant second rank (答應) – unlimited