Ruo Lan tells her sister that a few days ago, 8th had send a messenger telling her that she is coming to see Consort Liang on that day. She says she was baffled because there was no special occasion that required her to enter the palace. Then she realised that it was close to Ruo Xi’s birthday and she came expecting to see her younger sister.
Ruo Xi ahs and says so it is 8th who arranged for this. She looks touched before asking Ruo Lan what patterns Consort Liang prefers.
Ruo Lan replies that her mother-in-law prefers fresh and elegant colours. Ruo Xi nods and begins to draw.
She happily presents her sister with one of her finished drawings and Ruo Lan admires it, saying that her younger sister has learnt much since she entered the palace. She compliments Ruo Xi and explains she had thought the drawings were an excuse for them to meet but Ruo Xi draws really well.
Ruo Xi laughs and grips her elder sister’s wrist, asking if Ruo Lan likes it. She offers to draw a few for Ruo Lan. The younger woman thinks about it and suggests lotus flowers and says they suit Ruo Lan. Ruo Lan agrees.
The younger woman grows pensive and leans over Ruo Lan’s shoulders, sighing that her days at the 8th Prince’s residence were her happiest. She remembers how she sang, how she fought, how she had argued with 10th, how she had being teased by 14th, how she had played shuttlecock with the maids.
Ruo Lan asks if Ruo Xi is unhappy. Ruo Xi replies that she is not really unhappy. She realises that the Emperor treats her very well. The elder sister points out that Ruo Xi had accompanied the Emperor for quite a few years and asks what her plans are for her future. If Ruo Xi had someone in her heart.
Ruo Xi hesitantly points out that her sister had advised her to put away such thoughts.
Ruo Lan replies that the advice was given when it was uncertain if the Emperor would have selected Ruo Xi for his harem or given her hand in marriage to a member of the royal family. However, now Ruo Xi is grown up and is someone the Emperor values highly. This means Ruo Xi could have some say in her own marital future. Ruo Lan holds her sister’s hands and says that women should always think about themselves and that Ruo Xi will not be able to remain a palace maid.
The elder sister lifts Ruo Xi’s hand and remarks that she is still wearing the phoenix blood bangle. Ruo Xi squirms under Ruo Lan’s gentle gaze and looks away. Ruo Lan softly adds that if Ruo Xi really cares about 13th, then 13th should submit a petition to the Emperor asking for her hand in marriage.
Ruo Xi corrects her sister, saying that 13th and herself are just bosom friends.
Ruo Lan nods and brightens, suggesting 10th. She says that 10th still misses Ruo Xi and they could be a good match. She hesitates as she remembers Ming Yu, 10th first wife but then smiles. She remarks that given Ruo Xi’s character, she would not be bullied by Ming Yu. She asks her sister if she is not right about this.
Ruo Xi replies solemnly that she would rather not marry if she had to fight with another woman over a man for the rest of their lives. Ruo Lan gives an understanding nod and pauses again.
“How about 14th?” Ruo Lan asks next. Ruo Xi gives a tiny laugh, calling Ruo Lan her good sister and says that if she was going to marry, she would marry someone she loves. Someone who will also love her wholeheartedly with reservation.
Ruo Lan nods with a smile but there is pain on her expression. Ruo Xi asks if Ruo Lan is unable to forget the general. The older woman whispers that she cannot forget even if she wishes to forget.
In a gentler voice, Ruo Xi tries to find out if Ruo Lan still hates 8th. Ruo Lan replies that although she does not hate her husband, she will never be able to forgive 8th. If he had not send men to investigate, the general would still be alive. Ruo Lan turns away, tears thick in her throat.
The younger sister sighs that 8th had not intended for that outcome either.
A moment later, Ruo Xi asks how Ruo Lan had passed the time they were apart. Ruo Lan replies that life is as it had always been.
A maid enters and informs them that Consort Liang was asking if the drawings were done. Ruo Xi says yes and they go out to meet Consort Liang.
Consort Liang examines the drawings in delight. She picks out one and remarks that the flowers are pear blossoms which are seldom used for embroidering handkerchiefs. Ruo Xi replies that it was inspired by the writing of Qiu Chuji, a historical Taoist.
The imperial consort recites the verse and then laughs, saying that she dares not aspire to such gentle innocence. She admires the pictures and compliments Ruo Xi, saying that she is capable of anything.
Ruo Xi thanks Consort Liang. The imperial consort smiles and looks down, freezing when she notices the bangle around Ruo Xi’s wrist. She recognizes it as belonging to 8th, her son. Ruo Xi follows Consort Liang’s gaze and casually drops her hand to her side, hiding the bangle.
Consort Liang forces smile, shifting her eyes and asks the drawings to be put away safely until someone is found to embroider them. Ruo Xi takes her leave. Both sisters exchange loving glances before the younger sister departs.
Walking back to the Emperor’s quarters, Ruo Xi passes the audience hall and sees that the officials leaving. She hesitates and then follows, her eyes on 8th while keeping out of sight.
8th stops and turns back, Ruo Xi ducks. He examines the seemingly empty courtyard and about faces with a wry grin. He continues on his way while Ruo Xi carefully straightens.
She continues to trail the departing men, wondering at herself. Her feet do not obey her wishes, unconsciously following 8th. She thinks to herself, “8th. To love, that I cannot allow. Not to love, yet I cannot forget. What should I do.”
Ruo Xi has a nightmare. She dreams that 8th sat on the Dragon Throne but was shot by 4th. She sits up, a tear rolling down her cheek. She is in pain and deeply troubled, stirred and torn within her heart.
14th frowns, pacing Ruo Xi’s courtyard. He finally turns to leave and meets her at the entrance. She greets the prince and he responds with a growl, asking where she was. She asks if he had waited for a long time and asks why he was looking for her.
He presses his lips tightly together, looking disgruntled before saying that he met 4th and 13th at De Fei’s quarters and could not remain there. Ruo Xi examines his face and then smiles, offering to make tea for 14th. He smiles, looking much calmer.
They sit in the courtyard and after sipping the tea, 14th comments that the tea is bitter. Ruo Xi explains that he is drinking ‘Da Hong Pao’, which is different from the milder green tea he usually drinks.
Ruo Xi asks 14th if he is angry with 4th because of the incident when he pleaded on 8th’s behalf. 14t replies that it is not anger but bitter disappointment.
When their Emperor Father had drawn his sword to cut him down, the first to grab their father was 5th. Although 5th and 9th shared the same mother, 5th seldom has anything to do with 8th’s clique. Yet at that life-and-death moment, 14th own blood brother coolly stood aside.
Ruo Xi notes that 4th had also knelt to ask the Emperor Father to show mercy to 14th.
14th retorts that all the princes were on their knees at that time. He starts to say that although he grew up with 8th and is not close to 4th, 4th is … 14th pauses and continues. 4th and 8th had been created Bei Le at the same yet now 4th is a Prince of the First Order. He states that 4th is the best example of someone who push when they have an advantage or avoid disadvantages.
Ruo Xi slowly says that although they are both brothers, they have different personalities. One is carefree and big-hearted, the other is gloomy and unpredictable. She notes that it is undestandable because they did not grow up together.
Both are pensive ad Ruo Xi changes the subject. She tells him she saw her sister and thanks 14th and 8th. She offers tea in place of wine to express her gratitude. 14th smiles and accepts, saying that he should be the one toasting the birthday girl.
There is silence before 14th breaks it with a question, asking what Ruo Xi is really thinking in her heart. He asks if 8th had not done enough for her during these past two years. He says that 8th had turn into a lovelorn man.
Ruo Xi quietly pours tea into their cups as 14th continues.
He tells her that 8th had originally asked his help to persuade his mother to strike Ruo Xi’s name off the Preparatory Concubine’s list. In addition, Ruo was suppose to serve in De Fei’s quarters. Although there was a limit to how much 8th’s mother’s could help, Consort Liang had also helped behind the scene.
14th declines taking any credit for what he did because 4th had also pleaded with De Fei on 13th’s behalf. De Fei had happily agreed because it was the first time both brothers had asked help on the same issue.
Ruo Xi asks why Hui Fei also asked for Ruo Xi for her own staff. 14th guesses it must have been Ming Hui and Ming Yu’s idea. 14th tells her that he did not expect 8th’s reaction when Ruo Xi ended up serving his Emperor Father. 8th was so anxious and angry that he did not visit Ming Hui for more than six months. It was only when he saw how the Emperor treated Ruo Xi and how she was cautious that husband and wife reconciled.
Ruo Xi notes that Hui Fei did not cause any problems for her and asks if 8th had a hand in this as well.
14th replies that Hui Fei had taken care of 8th for a period of time and that it was not a difficult matter to ask leniency.
He looks at Ruo Xi and slowly asks Ruo Xi if 8th has a place in her heart.
Ruo Xi looks calm as she pours out more tea but her lashes flutter at the question. She murmurs softly that she does not know.
14th stands up angrily, “You still don’t know?!” He snarls that because of her, 8th has suffered. The 8th prince had secretly made many arrangements to make sure Ruo Xi’s life in the palace is uneventful. 14th asks Ruo Xi if she thinks life in the palace is really as uneventful and smooth-going as it had been for her.
He tells her that all these years, 8th had only formally taken two wives. He points out that none of the other princes and men in the royal family men did anything like this. In fact, there is gossip in the Forbidden City that 8th is henpecked and is afraid to have any more wives.
14th asks Ruo Xi if she thinks 8th is such a man. If he and his other brothers could follow a man who is afraid of his wives.
He raises his voice, “Maertai Ruo Xi! What is it that you really want!?”
Ruo Xi is agitated and suddenly stands when she notices 4th and 13th watching by the courtyard entrance.
She urgently whispers to 14th that 4th and 13th are here.
14th looks in their direction and glares as both princes approach before turning back to Ruo Xi, hissing that there is no wonder she does not know. Without another word, he brushes past the other two men and stalked out.
4th and 13th watch with raised brows as 14th leaves without any greeting. Ruo Xi stands and looks anxiously after him before she pulls her attention back to the other princes standing in front of her. She greets them.
13th smiles as 4th waves her up. He tells Ruo Xi that they are here for tea, pointing to the tea utensils arranged on the nearby table. They sit down and Ruo Xi serves them.
4th thoughtfully scrutinizes Ruo Xi before accepting the cup. Ruo Xi serves 13th who sniffs the tea before sipping. He identifies the tea, praising its flavour and says it is no wonder that even 14th would drop in to taste the tea.
13th remarks that their Emperor Father is really generous towards Ruo Xi. Even the tea he bestows on her is of the highest quality.
4th remains silent during this commentary.
13th looks up and suddenly repeats 14th’s question though in a soft and jesting manner, “Maertai Ruo Xi! What is it that you really want?”
Ruo Xi looks coolly at 13th before replying, “I want my birthday present.”
I believe 4th almost smiles at this answer but his face remains almost impassive, just his eyes flicker.
She continues that since 13th had drunk her tea, where is her gift.
13th goes ‘eh’ and seems amused at Ruo Xi’s impertinence at asking for a gift. He replies that there is none.
Ruo Xi echoes his reply, “None? And you dare to come here to ask for tea?”
13th retorts and asks if there is anything he would not dare.
Their easy and lively banter is a contrast to 4th quiet and unreadable demeanour.
Ruo Xi grins and gives in before adding that she has to thank 13th. 13th laughs back and replies that there is much she has to thank him for and ask which matter in particular.
She says it is thanks for his help in persuading De Fei. 13th holds up his hand, declining to accept the credit and waves towards 4th, saying that the thanks should be for 4th’s persuasive rhetoric.
Ruo Xi curtsies to 4th, thanking him and he waves up her up. She turns back to 13th, saying that she still has to thank 13th because it was his plea that the fourth prince had spoken up for her.
13th asks how he could just watch from the sidelines when he knows her ‘better to die in glory than live in dishonour’ attitude could cost her life. He cannot turn a blind eye.
Ruo Xi raises her tea cup with a wide smile, saying that having him as a bosom friend in her lifetime is enough.
4th continues to observe. A mere quirk of his lips when 13th described Ruo Xi’s attitude though he does not contribute to the conversation. Both click their tea cups while 4th looks on.
It is difficult to say how 4th feels at this point. He is amused by Ruo Xi yet there is a remote coolness about how he interacts with her.
Yu Tan enters and hesitates when she sees the princes, dropping a quick curtsy before they wave her up. Ruo Xi tells Yu Tan to go into the house. Yu Tan crosses the courtyard quickly as 13th starts to stand. He tells her that they should leave since they have finished their tea.
4th stands and brings out a flat red case he had been holding and places it on the table.
13th points to the box and tells Ruo Xi that 4th had asked Li Wei to bring the gift back when he was on official duty in the north west. He tells Ruo Xi that he had looked at the gift and it was really exceptional. He said he might as well not send a gift and claims a share in what is already given.
They both leave and Ruo Xi is quiet.
She reaches out for the red lacquer box with an inlaid bronze phoenix and matching bronze trimming at the corners. Ruo Xi opens the box. It contains three miniature snuff bottles. She smiles.
Ruo Xi and Yu Tan are having dinner. They serve each other and Yu Tan asks Ruo Xi why the princes were there having tea. Ruo Xi explains it is her birthday and that 13th had dropped in to give her a small gift.
Yu Tan’s smile disappears and her eyes look teary. She softly says that she and Ruo Xi have an affinity. They both share the same birth date. However, she does not have Ruo Xi’s fortune. Ruo Xi tells Yu Tan not to think in that way and stands up, tugging at the other woman’s arm and asks her to follow.
Ruo Xi rummages through her jewellery box and retrieves a jade hair pin and a matching pair of jade earrings. She walks over to Yu Tan and offers her friend birthday wishes and apologises for the late gift.
Yu Tan exclaims and says she cannot accept such an expensive jewellery. Ruo Xi replies that since Yu Tan has already accepted their sisterhood, the younger woman cannot refuse the present. Reaching down to grab Yu Tan’s hand, she places the jade pieces on the palm before folding Yu Tan’s fingers.
Yu Tan opens her hand, examining the jewellery before slowly closing her fingers tight around the cool metal. She looks at Ruo Xi with doleful eyes who gives her a wide warm smile. She protests that she has not given Ruo Xi anything for her birthday yet.
Ruo Xi answers that she does not know how to embroider. If Yu Tan could embroider a few handkerchiefs, that would be the best gift she could receive. Yu Tan happily consents and both decide to go for a walk.
As they walk hand-in-hand, they converse. Ruo Xi asks what the other woman is thinking of. Yu Tan replies she is thinking of her her mother, her younger brother and younger sister at home.
Ruo Xi says she now understands why Yu Tan is so responsible, because she is the eldest daughter. She adds that it was Yu Tan’s earnest sincerity and meticulous nimbleness as well as the younger woman’s discretion that attracted her and the reason why Ruo Xi kept Yu Tan close to her side.
Yu Tan waves off the compliment, saying that it just that poverty has made her more aware of the world and given her a little more life experience.
Ruo Xi confesses that she also misses her parents.
Yu Tan says that everyone had few opportunities to meet their families since they entered the palace. She remarks that Ruo Xi is more fortunate. 8th is Ruo Xi’s brother-in-law and the other princes treat Ruo Xi well, even remembering the older woman’s birthday. Inside the palace, everyone is a master or a mistress, who would remember a mere palace maid’s birthday.
They look up at the moon. Ruo Xi says both their parents and themselves stand under the moon and wonders aloud if they are looking at the same moon.
Yu Tan turns to Ruo Xi and says she wants to kowtow to the moon. It would be like she is paying her respect to her parents. Ruo Xi nods in agreement. They kneel and make their bows.
Their brief filial interlude is interrupted. Unannounced, Kang Xi walks along a path that intersects where both women are on their knees.
They gasp and promptly twist to greet the Emperor with lowered eyes while remaining kneeling.
The Emperor gives them permission to rise and tells them they are not to blame for blocking his way. He wanted quiet and had dismissed his guards. He gestures at them and asks what they were paying obeisance to.
Softly, Ruo Xi replies that they were thinking of their parents. They thought that since they all lived under the same moon, they would face the moon to pay their respects. It would almost be like they were making their bows before their parents.
Kang Xi sighs heavily and turns to view the moon. There is an undefinable air of loneliness in his stance and Rou Xi looks at the Emperor almost with sympathy. He stands still, brows furrowed before slowly strolling away with his eyes turned down. The head eunuch follows closely behind with the lantern.
As the Emperor disappears from sight, Ruo Xi murmurs, “Yu Tan. The average elders would either have their children or their grandchildren accompany them when they go for a stroll. But this absolute monarch is accompanied by a eunuch when he goes for a walk. The Dragon throne is like the Queen Mother of the Western Heavens’s hairput. With just a gentle stroke and this man is separated from his twenty over sons. A stroke that puts them on either side of a large river.”
Yu Tan sighs and says that Ruo Xi is correct. Both look at each other and their eyes express mutual compassion for the lonely ruler.
In the Imperial study, a report is submitted to Kang Xi reporting about the Crown Prince and his activities. The Emperor accepts the report and dismisses the official. There is tension in the room and Li De Chuan looks back at Ruo Xi who is standing with tea.
Kang Xi stands and walks to the window, staring out with his hand behind his back. He suddenly calls the head enunch forward and gives instructions for the inspection trip to the North. The Crown Prince and 8th will be the escort. 4th will remain and take charge of affairs in the palace. He will assisted by 9th, 10th and 14th. All matters will be reported daily by the fastest horse. Any mutual collusion is forbidden.
Li De Chuan takes his leave and Kang Xi stands, tapping the report in his hand. Ruo Xi thinks to herself and understands that the Emperor is beginning to fear 8th’s close clique and tight connections to the officials in the court.
She approaches the Emperor with his tea. He remains standing, reading the recently submitted report. Kang Xi who believes in the absolute authority of his rule cannot accept and tolerate any of 8th’s activities. He is not comfortable leaving 8th in the capital.
On the other hand, because of his removal as Crown Prince, 2nd realises his weakness and is creating his own clique and base of power within court. He is often with the court officials and this is another source of discomfort to the Emperor. That is why the Crown Prince is also accompanying the Emperor.
Ruo Xi follows Kang Xi, holding her tray as she reasons Kang Xi’s instructions. She pushes the tray forward when the Emperor turns and he accepts the cup. Ruo Xi glances up at Kang Xi and he returns her look.
There is a still moment, almost as if Kang Xi knows what Ruo Xi is thinking. She quickly lowers her eyes and Kang Xi also looks away.
The Emperor enters the main tent. He is laughing and calls out to Ruo Xi. He tells her that he suddenly has a craving for the special iced fruit juice she had made the previous year. Kang Xi remembers that the cup she gave him was a chyrsanthemum. The Crown Prince’s cup was a peony.
The Crown Prince agrees, saying that his cup was similiar to a peony. He says he was also thinking of the juice with nostalgia. It looked exquisite and cooled the heat.
Ruo Xi replies that since Kang Xi misses it, she will prepare it the next day.
The Crown prince turns to 8th, telling him that it is a real thirst quencher. After drinking it, the whole body feels so comfortable. He tells his younger brother that he is in for a treat.
Kang Xi suddenly remembers that Ruo Xi had asked to be allowed to learn horse riding as a reward. He asks about her progress. She replies that she can ride in a pinch.
The Emperor gives her permission to continue her lessons, telling her that she has to learn well and become skilled.
Ruo Xi kneels and thanks Kang Xi. 8th steals a quick glance at Ruo Xi.
As Ruo Xi enters the tea tent, Yu Tan wonders why Ruo Xi is not riding since she has already received the Emperor’s permission to continue learning. She observes that Ruo Xi enjoys riding.
Ruo Xi replies that none of the generals or soldiers are interested in teaching her to ride. They all go through the motions of teaching her instead of really teaching her. Their intention is mainly to keep her safe and out of any accidents. She would rather not learn in this case.
Yu Tan thinks it is a pity to give up especially since the Emperor had given his permission.
Ruo Xi smiles and says that the past few days had been exhausting. She will continue learning when she is well rested. She pauses suddenly as she remembers the previous year’s lessons.
4th had taken the lessons seriously. A brief flashback and Ruo Xi shakes it off, wondering why she could remember those moments so clearly. His every gesture, his every movement. His every word, his every expression. Everything remain crisp and unforgettable. She shakes her head once more, looking puzzled.
Kang Xi apologises to the Duke about his shortened visit the previous year and says they should celebrate wholeheartedly. The Duke laughs and says that since it is an imperial suggestion, they would obey to the hilt.
The Emperor laughs and agrees.
The Crown Prince cuts in and says he is also willing to keep company with them. The Duke looks unhappy at the offer.
One of the other Mongolian nobles speaks and says that on the Mongolian grasslands, those who engage in drinking search for appropriate company. There are few encounters where close friends are made over wine. But if people can not get along well, a single word is a waste of breath.
The Emperor looks embarrassed while the Duke sits quietly with a haughty expression. There is an awkward silence which 8th breaks with a smile. He says that the Duke is a generous man and definitely not someone who is bother by trifles. With three cups, everything is forgotten and forgiven.
The Duke laughs, saying the 8th has a silver tongue. Since everyone is meeting again under happy circumstances, let bygones be bygones.
Kang Xi responds with laughter, saying that this is what he likes to hear. He toasts the Duke with three cups.
Clearly, 8th is an articulate man with a keen sense of how to defuse a situation.
Ruo Xi is in her riding clothes but she is moping on a ledge. Min Min strolls past and hurries forward when she sees the Manchurian woman. The Duke’s daughter calls her name and Ruo Xi looks up.
Min Min exclaims, saying she recognized Ruo Xi as the other woman dips a curtsy. She asks if Ruo Xi has the time to accompany her for a walk.
Ruo Xi asks why Min Min is not riding. The Mongolian noblewoman replies that they are able to ride anytime unlike the visitors from the Forbidden City who can only ride when they are out on the open grassland.
Min Min asks Ruo Xi if she rides well. The older woman smiles and says she is the wrong person to ask. She is not skilled. But if she is asked whether she knows how to ride, then Ruo Xi could say a little.
The younger woman is surprised. She says she heard that Han women do not ride but why does Ruo Xi not know how to ride. Ruo Xi admits her lack of horsemanship but expresses her desire to learn. Min Min eagerly volunteers to teach her. She says she’s not taught anyone to ride before but she is sure she is able to make Ruo Xi a skilled horserider.
Ruo Xi hesitates and then agrees. Min Min grabs her hand and soon they are both on horseback.
Min Min tells Ruo Xi not to be afraid. She advises that horseriding involves falling, even Min Min herself oftens falls off the horse when she was young. She asks Ruo Xi to hold on tight and then slashes her whip across the croup of Ruo Xi’s mount.
The horse neighs and rears! Ruo Xi cries out as her foot slips out from the stirrup.
Min Min notices and gasps in alarm. She whips her own horse and gallops after Ruo Xi. The older woman grips the reins, trying to pull her horse to a stop but it charges forward, tossing Ruo Xi almost like a ragdoll on its back. She lunges forward and lies across its withers, holding tightly to its mane.
Suddenly 8th rides across the field and calls out to his sister-in-law. He tells her to give him his hand. She reaches back, once and again. 8th keeps pace with her horse and then with a hard tug, pulls her across into his arms.
She flings her right arm over his shoulder and holds him close. He asks if she is fine and Ruo Xi indicates she is well.
Min Min rides up anxiously asking why Ruo Xi loosened her grip on the rein. She breathes in relief, saying that it is fortunate 8th was close or she would have been in serious trouble.
Ruo Xi looks uncomfortable, feeling self conscious about 8th’s closeness as he grips her tightly around her waist.
Min Min offers her hand and tells Ruo Xi she will send her back. 8th interrupts, saying it is not necessary since he is going back to their campsite. He says he will send Ruo Xi back. The Mongolian noblewoman thanks 8th and tells Ruo Xi she will come visit when she is free.
A moment later, Min Min is off leaving the two on a single horse.
8th kicks his mount and it starts a slow jog. 8th reaches down and examines Ruo Xi’s hand. The reins had cut across her palm and dark red blood oozes thickly over bruised flesh.
8th says it must hurt and gently clasp his hand around hers. He lightly pushes her head against his face and looks forward. There is an expression of distress at her hurt and something else.
Ruo Xi leans close and whispers silently to herself. “Let me indulge myself just once. Just this once.” She nestles her forehead against his cheek, looking up at 8th with longing. “Let me forget he is the 8th prince. Let me forget he already has wives. Let me forget how to be rational.”
In a careful voice, 8th softly murmurs in sudden awareness, “Inside your heart, there is me.”
Startled, Ruo Xi looks into his face and she is unable to speak. He turns his head and looks straight into her eyes. Gradually a smile of delight creases his face and his eyes light up.
He repeats, “Inside your heart, there really is me.” 8th speaks as if a miracle has unexpected blossomed and he laughs tenderly at the still speechless Ruo Xi. Again, he urges her to rest against him with a light touch as he continues to laugh with joy.
They dismount and walk side-by-side through the opening in the fence. He is confident, casting tender glances and smiles in her direction while she steals glimpses of the man beside her. Ruo Xi seems almost shy and uncertain.
As he ties his horse, Ruo Xi turns away but 8th calls her. She slowly twirls and he asks how she got together with Min Min. She explains they met by accident and because Min Min knows how much Ruo Xi wants to learn to ride, Min Min offered to teach her. Belatedly, she adds her appreciation for his rescue.
8th explains that he happened to ride that way and seeing her in the distance, had ridden forward to check on her progress. He steps forward, telling her that when she wants to ride the next time, he will teach her.
Ruo Xi smiles and agrees. She breathlessly takes her leave and her reaction is so different from her usual confident self that 8th smiles in amusement. She turns and after a few steps, starts to run as fast as she could while the prince watches.
Back in her tent, Ruo Xi is still in her riding clothes. Poking at the flames with a long slender stick, she finally admits that 8th is indeed in her heart. She reasons that it is impossible for her not to be moved especially since 8th had done so much for her. She sighs and wonders silently how to face this feeling.
She has so much to fear and so many issues and concerns that bother her.
8th has too wild an ambition and too many women. She groans and asks herself what to do. She cups her cheek and asks herself the same question again.
A hand taps Ruo Xi’s shoulder and she gasps! She opens her mouth to scream and the same hand claps over her face and a moustached man in Mongolian garb whispers her name, “It is me. It’s me.”
She stares and recognition dawns. It is 14th. She murmurs and he nods. Ruo Xi asks why he is in the camp. Hurriedly, she goes to the window and checks outside before closing the shutter.
Ruo Xi turns on 14th, angrily asking if he gone insane and going against the Imperial decree ordering him to remain in the capital. And yet 14th has followed them north. She asks if he is unafraid of angering the Emperor.
14th laughs at Ruo Xi’s heated words and she asks him why he is not in the capital. She is definitely worried about this man.
The prince explains that he wants to see 8th. However, this is a challenge since most of the men in camp serve his Emperor Father or the Crown Prince. They will be able to recognize him even from a quick glance at his back. That is why he looks for Ruo Xi.
Slowly, Ruo Xi asks if there is trouble in the capital.
14th replies it is not a serious problem but that he needs to speak with 8th personally and to discuss the issue. A letter may fall into the wrong hands. Beside they might have to write many letters to make sure they understand other. It is more convenient and effective to come himself and speak directly with his brother.
Ruo Xi asks if it is that simple. 14th says she will not understand the issues even if he tells her and tells her not to ask for details. He explains it is also for her own good.
Throwing his cape wide, 14th sits down on a stool and the calmed Ruo Xi stares at the prince. Especially at his moustache.
Ruo Xi leans forward, reaching out and 14th swivels away. He exclaims, asking what she is doing. She leans forward once more and he puts up his arm to fend off her hand. She says the more he tries to stop her, the more she wants to twirl the moustache.
14th laughs up at the dishevelled woman, saying the more she wants to twirl it, the more he will not allow her to do so.
Ruo Xi tries a different tack but the prince twists his grip and pushes her hands together. The woman makes a face, pouting at 14th with puffed cheeks. The prince examines her expression and resignedly drops his arms. “Fine, you want to twirl, twirl it then.”
She grins and carefully tugs the curly ends of the false moustache. 14th looks down at her fingers suspiciously. Ruo Xi plays with the moustache briefly and giggles. She straightens after a moment, contented.
This is an adorable scene between these two youths which demonstrates how relaxed and how much leeway 14th allows Ruo Xi.
Ruo Xi turns and considers options to allow both royal brothers to meet. 14th grins and stands, saying he knows Ruo Xi would have ideas.
She gives 14th a good look and 14th’s expression turns wary at Ruo Xi’s sudden laugh. He asks why she is laughing. Ruo Xi says she has an excellent plan that would not rouse anyone’s suspicion. However 14th replies that her expression is a giveaway and that the plan cannot mean anything good for him.
He demands to listen to the plan.
Ruo Xi tilts her head and slowly suggests that the prince could dress up as a woman. 14th repeats ‘woman’ incredulously. She explains that even if someone sees ‘her’ with 8th, no one would think anything is amiss. Besides who would believe that the noble Qing prince 14th is willing to disguise himself as a woman. She gives 14th a shoulder bump and grins.
14th furiously wags a finger and reprimands her for making such a disrespectful suggestion. He stalks past Ruo Xi who cheekily tilts her head and is smirking. He pauses and then suddenly grins. 14th twirls and declares that such disrespect deserves punishment. He grabs her cheeks and pinches them pink.
Ruo Xi raises her hands and begs for mercy, admitting her mistake. She adds that touching him with her hands will hurt. The bloody injuries from the earlier horseriding accident can be seen when she shows her palms.
14th looks concerned and examines her hand. He asks what happened. She explained about the accident and 14th notes that his brother is going to be upset about this.
Ruo Xi asks to be let off. 14th wags his finger again, saying that he thought she would have become a dullard after being in the palace for so many years. But she is still the same cheeky Ruo Xi. He tells her that to be careful because when disaster strikes, it would be difficult to escape death even if she possesses ten heads. She brazenly tells him ‘ditto’.
She turns serious and says that 8th is lucky to have 14th as a brother. 14th notes that his Emperor Father scolds him and calls it ‘Shui Bo Liang Shan’ brotherhood. (Note : Shui Bo Liang San is a reference to the area where the outlaws operated in the ‘Water Margin’ novel)
Ruo Xi grins and calls 14th a ‘Liang Shan’ hero. She suggests 14th rest since he must be tired. She will prepare a meal and bedding for him. He asks if it is convenient. She replies that even if it is inconvenient, it has to be convenient. She smiles and he responds with a equally cheeky grin.
Someone calls for Ruo Xi and she gestures for silence before moving towards the door. 8th has send the servant with medicine. He informs her that she should apply the ointment after washing the wounds with warm water. He gives her the rest of the instructions while 14th listens at the doorway.
The servant starts to leave but Ruo Xi asks him to wait. She asks 14th if this man is trustworthy. 14th believes he is because 8th had send him to deliver the medication. Although her injury is not crucial, his brother is always very careful with regards to her affairs.
Ruo Xi reprimands 14th, asking how he could tease her then. She pushes her ointment into his hand but he stops her, urging caution. He had defied an Imperial decree and the less people who knows about his presence, the safer it would be. She nods.
She goes out of her tent and asks the servant what 8th usually does in the evening. He replies that it is uncertain. Sometimes 8th will read, sometimes he will play chess against himself. Ruo Xi nods again and dismisses the servant.
Ruo Xi trots back into her tent and 14th asks what she intends to do. She replies, “Arrange a meeting between yourself and 8th of course.” He urges urgency and she assures him it will be done.
Back in the capital, 4th conducts a meeting. He asks one of the officials, Official Li, to read a document that proposes changes in the bureaucracy. Official Li glances down the page and hesitates, casting a quick glance in 9th and 10th’s direction. He reads aloud.
9th murmurs to 10th. He comments on the internal shuffle and notes that all the mentioned officials have close connections to 8th. He observes that it is an attempt to break up 8th’s alliance while the prince is away from the capital. He says it is despicable. 10th agrees.
4th asks if 9th has an opinion about the shuffle. 9th speaks up, “Of course. Wouldn’t making such a major shuffle of officials disrupt government and affect the country. I suspect someone is taking advantage of our Emperor Father’s absence to make changes that will eliminate rivals. Using duty for personal gain.”
13th asks 9th who he is referring to. He adds that a gentleman would speak boldly instead of alluding through veiled insinuations.
4th explains that the transfers and shuffles were submitted by court officals and he is executing their Emperor Father’s wishes. He clarifies that he is administering according to what their Emperor Father had decreed. He states he is not showing any favouritism.
10th stands up and asks if it is really their Emperor Father’s wishes. He points out that their Emperor Father is away on inspection and he says he suspects there is favouritism being dispensed.
4th stands up and replies that if both truly suspect there is an issue with the shuffle, they are both welcome to speak with Emperor Father on his return about the matter. He states that he usually reaches a conclusion after much thought without any selfish expectations. He earnestly works to help their Emperor Father.
He further states that if someone accuses him of favouritism and working to eradicate dissidents, then he is only eliminating those corrupted officials who abuse power for personal gain and those who oppose their Emperor Father. Whether they are lords, princes or of royalty.
He reminds them that their Emperor Father hate those who conspires for personal gain. Their Emperor Father will severely punish any who take part in such activities. He asks them to remember this warning.
4th sits down and asks about 14th. He has not seen 14th for a while and wonders if their brother would be coming to the meeting.
10th says that 14th is ill. 9th explains that 14th was hunting a few days ago and saw a fox who was pretending to be a tiger by borrowing tiger’s reputation. (Proverb is explained in the reference document.) However 14th could not kill the fox. He was so agitated by this that he fell ill.
4th listens solemnly and then asks 9th to inform 14th to care of himself. He adds that he would not ignore any dubious friends and cliques.
13th walks quickly and 4th catches up with him. 4th asks where 13th is going. His younger brother says he is going to meet 14th and reason with him. 14th cannot play games when it comes to such serious matters as government.
He says that although 4th and 14th are from the same mother, and are blood brother, 4th cannot ignore this incident. If 14th continues to act in this way, even the brotherhood bond cannot stand up to such disrespect.
4th asks 13th not to go. He tells 13th that it is even more important not to because they are brothers. 4th explains that if 13th goes over and does not find 14th, it would create a situation.
13th asks what his brother means. He pauses and then slowly says, “14th has gone to the North to meet 8th!”
4th’s expression confirms his statement. 13th exclaims that this is defying an edict and is a ‘killing’ crime. The older brother replies that this is why 13th cannot go to seek 14th. If 13th does not find 14th in his residence and the news spreads, it would only harm 14th.
13th smacks his hands together, lamenting his muddleheaded thinking without considering this possibility. 4th hopes no one finds out about this matter and that 14th returns safely.
13th tries to reassure his older brother, saying that 14th is a smart and alert man. Nothing will happen.
4th is quiet. He stands still for a moment and then notes that they have appointments they need to attend.
Lu Wu enters with refreshments and greet the two princes. 4th asks Lu Wu to dispense with all formalities since they are visiting on a casual basis. She places the tea on the table as 13th requests Lu Wu to sing a few songs since it is his 4th brother’s first visit.
13th asks 4th to listen well. Lu Wu declines to sing that day. Both men look surprised and she explains that those who perform on the stage for royalty sing much better than she does. She does not dare show herself up in front of experts.
Both princes smile in great amusement. 4th looks especially relaxed and he seems to be teasing Lu Wu as he compliments her exquisitively sweet heart. He turns to 13th and praises his bosom companion as talented as well as beautiful.
13th looks at Lu Wu with admiration and she smiles with lowered eyes. Lu Wu says 4th is overpraising her and asks for forgiveness for any of her shortcomings.
The younger prince asks what she intends to do if she is not going to sing. She replies that both princes eat and drink well in the palace. There is nothing that can surpass that. All she could offer was a simple pot of green tea. She gently smiles when they accept.
4th comments that the tea is indeed fragrant and praises the Lu Wu’s tea making skills. Lu Wu explains she picked it up from one of 13th’s good friends.
13th clarifies that Lu Wu learnt her tea making from Ruo Xi.
4th is surprised, “Ruo Xi?”
Lu Wu notes that Ruo Xi is a frank and sincere woman and that it is a privilege and her fortune to have such a friend.
4th observes Ruo Xi is able to open her heart and be friendly to anyone else except with him. She acts him like he is a savage or a dangerous beast whenever she sees him and is always very careful and on guard with. He appears disconcerted by this aspect of Ruo Xi.
13th butts in, “Doesn’t this prove that she treats you 4th differently from how she treats others. In her heart, perhaps you are distinctive from the rest of us.”
4th considers this thoughtfully though with some doubt when a guest is announced. 13th nods at Lu Wu who asks the guest to be brought in. She excuses herself to prepare food and wine.
The guest enters and bows to Lu Wu. When he faces the prince, the man kneels and greets the princes. It is Nian Gengyao.
4th waves Nian Gengyao up while 13th notes that they have not seen him for a while. He seems to have grown thinner and asks if it is because of what he had been doing for the 4th prince.
The man bows, saying it is his fortune to serve both princes and that there is nothing too challenging in what he does. 4th comments that he is aware of what Nian Gengyao has achieved. He says he will not treat Nian Gengyao unfairly.
* See Notes for explanation