As per tradition, the Crown Prince should pay his respects to the Empress Dowager every three days. Today, sounds of chatter and soft laughter reach Tingsheng’s ears before he even opens the doors.
“Chengting, there you are,” beckons the Empress Dowager with a smile. “Come and help us look through those portraits, we can’t even begin to choose.”
“Greetings, Grandmother, Dowager Consort,” bows Tingsheng obediently before stepping closer and seeing more than a dozen portraits scattered across the table. An vague idea materializes in his mind, but he still queries, “What are these?”
“Picking a Consort for your seventh uncle! This matter has long been neglected for all those years, and now with his weakened health, he needs someone to take proper care of him.”
“Jiejie, I don’t think there is any rush.” 
“No rush! You being his mother, how can you be so nonchalant about this? Jingyan is past the age thirty, Jingting already has two children yet Jingyan doesn’t even have a concubine in his manor.” The Empress Dowager pauses, “Now I think about it, odd things do come in pairs; Xiaoshu still remains unmarried. Last time when I asked my sister-in-law, she also said there was no rush.
“Xiaoshu has always been a picky child. If we line them up, a queue of his female admirers would wind around the street, more than enough to fill a harem if he wanted. But the strange thing is, how come he shows no interest in any of the beauties in the capital? Though given his family’s esteem and his own merits and attributes, everything added together, it is truly hard to find a suitable match short of a princess.”
Dowager Consort Jing chuckles lightly, “So wouldn’t it be nice if Yujin were a girl?” 
“Actually, if Jingyan were a princess, he might be the best match for that imp. Just look at all those years of friendship, they are closer than some true brothers.” Laughs the Empress Dowager to herself, not noticing the slightly odd expressions on both the Crown Prince and Dowager Consort Jing’s face. “Compared to a well-bred damsel who knows nothing but embroidery, perhaps Xiaoshu likes a confident and suave girl who matches him in martial arts. How come he isn’t interested in Nihuang either? That child has standards as high as the sky, but it’s not like we can actually find him the top beauty of the pugilist world!”
Dowager Consort Jing has held her silence long enough, she soothes, “...The children are all grown, they have their own ideas, just let them choose for themselves.”
“Well, then we must provide them with enough choices to choose from,” declares the Empress Dowager promptly. She picks up the portraits and leafs them through once more, “Despite his young age, Chengting has a sharp eye for many things, let him weigh in for us.”
Tingsheng approaches the table, his eyes giving a cursory sweep of the portraits and he pronounces, “These are all good, but none good enough for my Uncle Jingyan.”
The two women share an amused glance, laughing, “Speaking truly like someone who lives in Jingyan’s manor, no one will be good enough for his Uncle!”
“Chengting has always been an obedient child but never too affectionate for his age. I was a bit anxious when Jingyu sent him to Prince Jing’s Manor-- both uncle and nephew are stubborn as an ox, they wouldn’t give an inch in an argument. Now it seems that my worries were unfounded. Just look at him, the groom has yet to give his opinion, he’s sent all the prospects away already!” Lin Yueyao takes a breath to calm herself and pulls out one of the portraits from the pile, asking casually, “Well then, tell me, how is this girl ill-suited for your uncle?”
“She is dressed in ostentatious clothing, excessively ornamented, even the objects in the background are all rare collectibles. She lacks the virtue of frugality.”
“What about this one?”
“Her eyes are dull and appear disinterested, clearly with a boring disposition.”
“This one looks more peppy.”
“Perhaps overly so. There are mostly loud men of the army in Prince Jing’s Manor, they spend hours in vigorous exercises, she may be frightened of all the ruckus.”
Dowager Consort Jing nods approvingly as he voices his opinion on several portraits, satisfied that despite the blunt remarks, he does not judge the girls based on the stature of their families.
“And this one?”
“What’s wrong, no comment? What do you think of the granddaughter of Chancellor Liu Cheng?”
“I’ve met this girl once,” says Dowager Consort Jing. “Seems poised and gentle-hearted, content with quietude. She is also rather learned, fairly accomplished in the scholarly arts and well-mannered, too.”
“Jingyan needs someone who can take good care of him. Look at his manor, it’s full of unrefined soldiers whose entire life is the battlefield. The only reliable one, Lie Zhanying, has also moved on to the Imperial Guards as Vice Commander. Although you are a considerate child, you cannot stay by his side all the time…”
Tingsheng knows that as soon as he gives his reply, he would never see his younger brother again in this life.
A maelstrom of emotions swirls inside Tingsheng at the thought of that innocent child: envy, jealousy, affection and longing all warring for dominance. He was the legitimate son of Father, his childish features bearing a great resemblance to the man. He would trail behind Tingsheng ever since he learned to walk, calling him in that sweet baby voice, ‘Tingsheng-gege.’
He recalls when that child was first born, how he had envied his status, envied the fact that he could legitimately call Jingyan “Father” in front of everyone, envied the expectations and attention he received from the moment of his birth. But all those dark thoughts were summarily soothed by Jingyan.
‘Tingsheng, you are an elder brother now.
A long time ago, I had an elder brother too. Those times with him by my side, protecting me and guiding me, were the happiest days of my life.
And I hope this child can be as fortunate as I was.’
Tingsheng gives a slight cough to cover his momentary lapse in attention.
A man’s life is filled with gains and losses. If Tingsheng was one of the “gains” in Jingyan’s last life amidst his many losses, then this child would be a loss in Jingyan’s present life.
Tingsheng knows who should rightly stand by his Father’s side. His hesitation is nothing but a gesture of goodbye.
“This Lady Liu had written a poem some years ago illustrating her resistance towards marrying into nobility, it had once gained overwhelming popularity amongst the female circles.”
“It was no more than a poem written in jest, not to be taken seriously.” The Empress Dowager glances at him in slight surprise, “You are not usually one to pay much heed to such gossips...did Yujin say something to you again? That man...already a grown adult yet never ceases to cause trouble! Now polluting young minds too!”
“...The poem mentioned Qishui.”
The Empress Dowager and Dowager Consort Jing have only a hazy knowledge of what had transpired that year regarding Qishui. They later heard from Jingyu that Jingyan had many unspoken difficulties in his position at the time, though many years have passed since then, they cannot reasonably reopen the case to prove Jingyan’s innocence. So whenever the subject of Qishui comes up, Jingyu’s expression would invariably darken with much more displeasure than Jingyan himself; if he found out that this Lady Liu has held a wrongly placed grudge for so long, he would be extraordinarily unhappy. The Empress Dowager heaves a reluctant sigh, “If that’s the case...then it really would be unwise to mention her to Jingyan.”
“Actually, I’ve suggested Lady Liu to Jingyan once before, he rejected the idea right away. He said that he feels inexorable guilt towards her for having taken her nanny during the expulsion of the Hua from the capital.” Dowager Consort Jing placates softly, “Jiejie, please don’t dwell on this matter. For me, I would be more than happy as long as Jingyan is safe and healthy.”
“I heard from my Brother that he sent some herbs from Western Li to Jingyan, supposedly quite efficacious for healing the bone. These children, no matter how much they grow up, we’d always worry for them.” The Empress Dowager grabs the Crown Prince’s hand and pats it affectionately, “Now we have one more to worry about. Already so picky at this young age, you are all taking after Xiaoshu and Yujin!”
Tingsheng ducks his head in obedient acquiescence, smiling and pouring a fresh cup of tea for both women, and steers the conversation to another topic.
Xiao Jingyu sits on the imperial throne, a smile curling up his lips when he opens the next report.
The handwriting tapered and strong, the argument logical and succinct, he recognizes Jingyan’s handiwork at once.
The two brothers still have their disagreements on political matters, but Jingyan would always articulate his opinions directly to him. Like this time, with the recruitment of new officials, his has pointed out in his report the issue of ambiguous stipulations regarding using talent from lower births, his reasoning impeccable and his recommendations precise.
Jingyan has poured all his energy into helping him govern the kingdom, yet he, as elder brother, has no means of recompense. If they were any ordinary lord and subject, it would be enough to award gold or property, antique collectibles, rare books or weaponry-- whatever his subject fancies.
But Jingyan doesn’t truly desire any of these things, they would only collect dust in his manor.
As a brother, he can give Jingyan love and affection; as a ruler, he can give him unparalleled trust. Yet none of this can hold a candle to the sacrifices Jingyan has made for him.
Although to everyone else, he has already elevated Jingyan to an unsurmountable height, but compared to what the man deserves, it is far from enough.
Whenever Jingyan comes into the palace, Xiao Jingyu can only ask him to wear more layers, to take care of himself. Now he truly finds himself in a predicament: he wishes more than anything to give Jingyan more, but Jingyan needs nothing else.
When it comes to clothing, Jingyan is not particular and pays little attention to accessories. Perhaps as a result of military training in his early years, he is never picky about food, either; the only things he favors a bit more are commonplace desserts like hazelnut cookies.
When it comes to his residence, Jingyan still lives in the same manor as before, next to Lin Shu’s place. Though a few months ago, the latter had purchased the house next door as well, busy with rebuilding the space for a while.
When it comes to travel, Jingyan’s injury on his left leg is still not fully healed, so Jingyu has forbidden him to come to the palace during inclement weather.
He knows well that Jingyan truly wants for nothing else, but this very realization saddens him immensely.
At this moment, Vice Commander Lie Zhanying enters to deliver his report on some recent military matters. The man is detailed and reliable, Jingyu nods in satisfaction at his work.
A muffled rumble of thunder interrupts their conversation. Jingyu raises his head and sees a steady blanket of rain beginning to pour from the sky.
Lie Zhanying turns his attention to the outside as well and sighs, “The clouds are coming from the east, the rain will persist for a while. We are already in late autumn, this kind of chilly rain is most unbearable.”
Something occurs to Jingyu and he asks, “Where is Jingyan right now? I recall that he and Lin Shu left the capital yesterday to evaluate some war horses donated by several lords. Is he on his way back now?”
“The gates have just sent word that His Highness is already back.”
“The mansion he visited was to the east of the city, he must have gotten wet on his way back.” Jingyu frowns in worry, “I’ll go pay him a visit.”
Jingyan’s manor has always had very few servants, he does not need people tending to him, even on his sickbed. The few additional maids and servants bestowed to him by Dowager Consort Jing after his return to the capital all work in the outer rooms.
“His Highness encountered a storm, several people of his entourage have fallen ill from the cold. His Highness is also a bit under the weather, he might have already gone to rest.”
“I see, I will go see him briefly.”
The emperor’s visit to Prince Jing’s manor is already a frequent occurrence, the servants know not to ask much. They bow their retreat after leading him to the entrance of the inner chambers.
Jingyu approaches Jingyan’s bedroom and sees a single lamp still lit inside, indicating its occupant is still awake. He opens his mouth to call out, only to hear whispered voices coming from inside.
Upon closer examination, he recognizes Lin Shu’s voice.
Through the slightly unlatched window, he sees the two men squeezed together on the same bed, each with a book in hand.
Jingyu notices an empty medicine bowl on the low nightstand, the bitter scent of herbs still lingering in the air. Lin Shu is wrapped tightly in a thick blanket, his face slightly flushed as he gives a few light coughs. So it is Lin Shu who’s caught the cold.
Lin Shu and Jingyan have always been very close since their youth, and they’ve often slept in the same tent during military excursions. Jingyu has long since known their intimacy, yet the scene in front of him strikes him as odd.
Lin Shu is holding the book with his left hand, his right hand clasped tightly with Jingyan’s left one, fingers laced together. Jingyan seems rather accustomed to the gesture; despite the difficulty of flipping the page with just one hand, he makes no move to extract his hand from Lin Shu’s.
Jingyu is suddenly reminded of when he first taught the two boys The Book of Songs, when they heard the stanza “Take thy hand and with thee I age”, how Lin Shu had immediately gone to grab Jingyan’s hand.
‘So we’d never be apart.’
Silence stretches in the room when Jingyan frowns, guilt written all over his face, “If you hadn’t lent me your cape, you wouldn’t have fallen ill.”
“Nah, there are some servants in my manor that got sick a few days ago, I caught it from them. Besides, I’ve never gotten sick when I was in the North, which was so much colder than here.” Lin Shu coughs again, whining, “But I think I’m burning up.”
He reaches up to rub his forehead shamelessly against Jingyan’s head, then proceeds to plant a soft kiss on Jingyan’s lips.
Jingyu stumbles back, his boots stepping into a shallow water puddle, the crisp splash! resounds in the quiet night.
At the sight of Xiao Jingyu outside the window, Jingyan and the usually unflappable Lin Shu are both frozen in shock.
“You…” Xiao Jingyu feels the blazing ball of anger deflate into nothingness as the first word leaves his mouth.
He’s always known that the two were close, but he’s never once divined their relationship in that fashion. On his way here, he was still preoccupied with Jingyan’s health, thinking that he must personally pick a Consort for him by next year. He’d already made a mental catalogue of all the suitable girls in the noble circles, but they struck him either as too prudish or too immodest, none was good enough for Jingyan.
His head still whirling with such thoughts, he suddenly finds the candidate for his sister-in-law already decided in front of him.
As the elder brother, he is understandably furious at the blatant display of immorality from two of his dearest brothers, yet the rebuke dies in his throat after the first word.
The scene he had just witnessed was indisputably clear-- it was no frivolous flirting, but the natural intimacy from deeply ingrained affection.
Seeing that Lin Shu only has a light robe on, Jingyu takes a step backwards and waits in the courtyard.
Lin Shu feels worry gnawing at him. Although Jingyu is a man that respects tradition and moral codes, he is far from being inflexible. But Jingyan means so much to the man that his judgment would inevitably be clouded by his feelings.
Lin Shu’s original plan was that in a few years, after the political landscape has stabilized and Jingyan’s health much improved, they would go travel together and inform Jingyu via letter. By that time they will have stayed in the pugilist world for two or three years, with Auntie Jing and his mother’s persuasive tactics, even if he is still mad, Jingyu-gege might slap him around a bit, but he wouldn’t blame Jingyan anymore.
But now they are practically caught red-handed, Lin Shu worries that Jingyu would give Jingyan a harsh reprimand.
Sensing Lin Shu’s distress, Jingyan soothes him, “When we go outside, you stay quiet, I’ll admit to everything.”
Lin Shu feels a sharp spike of anger at Jingyan’s gross misunderstanding and his ridiculous intention to shoulder all the blame, he snaps, “I’m still here, where do you think you are going by yourself?”
“Don’t worry, Brother wouldn’t actually punish me...you should go back home.” Jingyan says calmly, “Whatever happens, I won’t let harm come to you.”
Lin Shu’s heart melts at the words, yet he cannot help but feel exasperated at the Buffalo’s sheer stubbornness. He settles for grabbing the man closer and bites on his ear tip, half in admonition and half in jest, saying, “You should do well to remember that we will always stay together, through life and death.”
Jingyan walks outside with Lin Shu beside him. At one glance of Jingyu’s stormy expression, he knows that his Brother, honorable and principled to a fault, would never tolerate such flagrant disrespect of moral propriety. He begins, “Xiaoshu has nothing to do with the incident today, I will accept any punishment Brother sees fit to dole out.”
He then proceeds to lower himself into a kneel.
Before his knees could touch the ground, however, he is forcibly grabbed by Jingyu’s hand.
“Nonsense! The ground is freezing, do you want to ruin your legs?!” Jingyu scolds, his brows knitted together in displeasure.
The night has completely fallen, the ground is covered in a thin layer of ice, how can Jingyan’s injured legs withstand such chill?
“...We’ll talk inside.”
The three of them go back into the room. Lin Shu helps Jingyan settle into a plush chair, and Jingyu tosses a cape to Lin Shu, who wraps it around himself.
After everyone is comfortable, the previous tense atmosphere has also dissipated.
Though Lin Shu is the ill one, Jingyan’s face is lined with obvious fatigue as well. Jingyu sweeps his eyes across the half-finished scrolls on the desk, his mind wandering back to everything that has happened; he heaves a sigh, all criticisms vanishing from his mind.
He remembers the aftermath of the news of Jingyan’s fall, how Lin Shu had rushed to Langya Hall to keep Jingyan company at the first word of his survival. He remembers that when Jingyan came back to the capital, how Lin Shu had mobilized all his resources to search for medicinal herbs, how when he heard that hot springs were beneficial to the healing process, he had pleaded and begged for Prince Ji to give him a resort, where he would take Jingyan every month.
Jingyu would often think, it is truly a blessing of a lifetime that Lin Shu and Jingyan met and became friends in their youth, grew up in each other’s company, and have stayed so faithfully by the other’s side through the most difficult times, being the sword and shield for each other’s back.
Jingyu himself has his share of close friends too, but their relationships have never strayed beyond gentlemanly interactions. They would share a pot of tea or a jug of wine, conversing about various refined topics, yet a part of him would always feel the sharp tug of envy at the sight of Lin Shu and Jingyan, always together with palpable intimacy between them.
Now Jingyu realizes that their intimacy goes far beyond friendship.
He realizes that his decision now would dictate Jingyan and Lin Shu’s future.
Yet he doesn’t really have a choice, does he?
If he disapproves, the two would be forced apart, and he cannot bear to see his younger brother unhappy.
Jingyan has never wanted for much, now all he wants is Lin Shu.
If he denies him that wish, Jingyan will truly be alone.
He remembers that when they were young, Jingyan was his most carefree self with Lin Shu around.
If it’s with Lin Shu, perhaps Jingyan will finally be happy in his life.
He glances at the two before him, heaving a long sigh of resignation, and says, “...I will talk to Auntie Jing and the Lin family.”
Both Jingyan and Lin Shu are stunned into silence once again by the unexpected rejoinder.
Lin Shu has already drafted a detailed plea in his mind. No matter what, they have finally come together after all the hardships in this life, he would never let go of Jingyan’s hand.
Yet before he could verbalize any of his supplication, Jingyu has cut him off. Even the clever Vice Commander of the Chiyan army has moments of utter bewilderment; he lets out several involuntary coughs before asking, “Say what?”
“You, come with me,” Jingyu points at Lin Shu, “I’ll tell you what I mean.”
Time seems to stretch on as Jingyu and Lin Shu stand in the courtyard, facing one another.
Jingyu considers the young man before him: since he was a child, the precocious and clever Lin Shu has never dimmed his own brilliance even in front of imperial princes like Jingxuan, while Jingyan was born with an unrelenting sense of dignity; it was quite a miracle to see those two bond as the closest of friends. Jingyu’s head is still reeling from the recent revelation, yet a part of him is hardly surprised by the development.
What does he still need to tell Lin Shu?
Lin Shu already knows everything he would say.
Does he need to extract some kind of vow from Lin Shu?
But Lin Shu would never change anyway.
After much deliberation, Xiao Jingyu settles for saying, “You are Jingyan’s only close friend. If you become lovers, he would lose a friend.”
Lin Shu’s face blossoms into a smile, “We were inseparable friends first before we became intimate lovers, nothing will change.”
Jingyu savors Lin Shu’s words for a few moments; he does not have any friend of this kind, but he is immensely grateful that fate has brought Lin Shu and Jingyan together.
He reaches out to draw Lin Shu’s cape closer, assuring him, “Don’t worry, I will make certain that everything will be fine.”
When the Empress Dowager and Dowager Consort Jing hear that the emperor has requested their audience after his late-night visit to Prince Jing’s manor, they hurry outside to greet him despite matching expressions of puzzled surprise.
The emperor flips aside his robes and falls into a formal kneel in front of them, startling both women into action. “Jingyu! What is this for?!” “Please rise at once! Be seated and we shall talk.”
Jingyu refuses their earnest objections and remains kneeling, recounting with great care Lin Shu and Jingyan’s story.
“Jingyan lost almost everything for my sake. As his elder brother, I cannot bear to also take Lin Shu away from him.”
As he finishes, he touches his forehead to the ground with solemnity, “Jingyu begs Aunt Jing and Mother for your gracious approval.”
After receiving the blessing from the Empress Dowager and Dowager Consort Jing, Jingyan should pay a formal visit to the Lin family, as tradition dictates.
Jingyu’s concern flares up again and he insists on accompanying him.
Dowager Consort Jing pulls Jingyu aside and bids with a smile, “There is no need for you to go to the Lin Manor. Let Xiaoshu and Jingyan go by themselves tomorrow.”
“Aunt Jing, why not?” Jingyu cannot ignore the nagging worry and repeats, “Xiaoshu is the only child of Commander Lin. He carries extraordinary expectations...if Commander Lin is incensed by the situation, my presence there should offer some protection.”
“You have always looked out for Jingyan since he was young; I understand your anxiety. But since Jingyan’s return, judging by the way Commander Lin and Princess Jin Yang have treated him, they should have already perceived the truth long ago.”
“But Jingyan told me that they still don’t know--” Jingyu stops himself mid-sentence, realization hitting him. A chuckle escapes him-- so it seems that the entire Lin family have been clued in, his silly brother is the only one left in the dark.
“They both hold prominent positions and are both male. Neither cares for the superficial show of a marriage ceremony anyway. As their elders, it is enough to give them our blessings without drawing unwanted attention.”
Jingyu nods in understanding, he takes a few steps forward before turning back, “There is still one thing I would like to do for them.”
The night before going to the Lin Manor, Jingyan spends the whole evening awake, Lin Shu naturally ends up in a similar state with him.
So before Princess Jin Yang could voice a single word, an amused chortle escapes her at the sight of dark bags under both men’s eyes. After a brief tea ceremony, she summarily sends them back to get some proper rest. 
Jingyan has never imagined that his relationship with Xiaoshu would be accepted by their closest families; he spends the next few days in a complete daze, before remembering to harass Lin Shu for not telling him that Lin Xie and Princess Jin Yang had been aware of their liaison this whole time.
Then, Lin Shu’s manor catches on fire.
It is no major catastrophe-- only a storage room is burnt to ashes, though the flames have lit up the entire street.
Worried about Lin Shu’s safety, all irritation flees Jingyan’s mind as he hurries over to help him clean up the aftermath with a dozen of men. Yet within a fortnight, a woodshed catches on fire again.
The next day, the head astrologer reports that the Red Phoenix is gaining strength in the Southern sky, heralding a period of fire. He urges for stronger vigilance against conflagrations in the city.
Words on the street quickly connect the dots together between the prediction and the recent fires at Lin Shu’s manor.
Today, the Crown Prince leads a taoist priest to Lin Shu’s place to evaluate the reason behind the persistent fires. The priest concludes that the Vice Commander of the Chiyan army is born with fire, yet named with wood. Wood mutates in the presence of fire, the only recourse would be to build a passage in his manor that would draw water to the household, bringing balance to fire.
Jingyan eyes Lin Shu’s enthusiastic expression with mild suspicion as they listen to the priest’s ramble, “They are going to tinker around your house, why are you so excited?”
“The Blue Dragon represents water, ‘Jing’ means peace, it even has the character ‘blue’, and the Master of the House is the rightful descendent of the dragon-- where would my passage go to get water, don’t you see, Your Highness?” 
Jingyan chokes on his water and is consumed by a coughing fit.
He moves to stand up to put an end to this madness, only to be caught by Lin Shu, who shoves him back to his chair and says, “It’s His Majesty’s idea. What if I’m too old to climb over walls in fifty years?”
He continues, “Her Highnesses have already named the passage, too.”
“You command more than 50,000 men and I am a Prince of the first rank. What would people think if we have our houses connected?!”
“Jingyu-gege is different from the late emperor,” says Lin Shu. “As for others, our conscience is clear with regards to the heavens, the kingdom and our families, that will be enough.”
“...I need to see Brother to ask him to rescind the decree.”
“Too late,” Lin Shu blinks innocently. “Your walls have already been torn down.”
The Empress Dowager and Dowager Consort Jing have collectively named the passage: Qushui.
The hidden troughs on the side have also been cleaned and filled with fresh soil. Lin Shu favors the plum flower, so they’ve planted the sides full of plum trees from the blossoming ones in Prince Jing’s manor.
Within a year, the new plum trees are flourishing with beautiful flowers.
Lin Shu loves the sight; he would drag Jingyan to the pavilion at the end of the passage to spend hours there, sipping on wine and enjoying the scenery. Sometimes Yujin would join them with Jingrui to see the flowers too.
Today, Mu Qing is also present. The group of men are sitting around the table, drinking the Zhao Dian Hong wine courtesy of Jingrui, as Yujin says, “When I passed by Mei Lang today, I saw the plum flowers at the peak of their beauty! You could tell that those were personally planted by Lin Shu-gege, now Mei Lang is quite a sight to behold!”
Jingrui nods, “I think that the white plums are the most exceptional; they bloom in the harshest weather, not fearing even the coldest snow!”
Lin Shu chokes on his wine, “What Mei Lang, what the hell is Mei Lang?!” 
Yan Yujin ducks his head in terror at the outburst, while Mu Qing, who has never tasted Lin Shu’s iron fist, replies nonchalantly, “Oh, it’s that passage connecting your two houses! Since it’s lined on both side with plum blossoms, everyone calls it ‘Mei Lang’ now.”
“What do you mean, ‘everyone’?! Her Highness named it!”
“It’s a good name alright, just too hard to say,” Mu Qing sticks out his tongue for good measure. “When I went to visit Her Highnesses yesterday in the palace, they both said that they’d like to come to your manors someday, to see ‘Mei Lang.’ Oi, Lin Shu-gege, why the long face?”
Later, since more and more people have taken to the nickname, the emperor himself has penned the words “Mei Lang” on a framed board, which is then placed above the passage connecting the two manors.
But that’s a story for another time.
1姐姐 (jie jie): endearing honorific for an older female, can be used alone or attached as a suffix after names, like 宸妃姐姐 (chen fei jiejie), lit. Sister Consort Chen.[return to text]
2It was mentioned at the end of the drama (and perhaps more explicitly in the novel), where Prince Ji casually said that Yujin was promised in marriage to another family when his mother was pregnant with him. But once he was born and turned out to be a boy, the betrothal was dropped since the sex didn’t work out. Yujin never found out who his supposed “husband” was, but it was implied that it was Lin Shu.[return to text]
3The original here is 执子之手，与子偕老 (zhi zi zhi shou, yu zi xie lao), a very well-known stanza as part of a longer poem in the anthology 诗经 (shi jing), The Book of Songs, the first collection of poems of its kind, encompassing poetry and rhymes from 11th century to 6th century B.C. The original poem is called 击鼓 (beating drums), which expresses the lament of soldiers far from home in an extended military excursion with no return in sight. The full stanza reads: 死生契阔，与子成说；执子之手，与子偕老, lit. “Whether life or death, I’ve made this promise with you; [I will] take your hand and grow old with you.” In ancient times, when warfare was a long and unpredictable process, parting between soldiers from one battle to the next could mean permanent farewell. This poem describes the ardent wish of the speaker to stay with his friend on this lonely journey, even if they may never return to their hometowns. In modern reference, however, this last half quoted here has taken on a distinctly romantic connotation to mean essentially “ ‘til death do us apart.”[return to text]
4The practice of 敬茶 (jing cha, offering tea) is an important part of traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, still commonly used today. All four parents of the newlyweds would be presiding over the ceremony, where the groom first offers tea to his father-in-law, then his mother-in-law, followed by the bride performing the same to her in-laws. This is also the first official meeting of the parents to the new addition to their families, and where the couple formally change their address of both pairs of parents to “mother” and “father.” Sources suggest that since the Song Dynasty in the 12th century C.E, tea has been considered a symbol of permanence and fidelity for the fact that tea trees could not survive transfers once they were unearthed. [return to text]
5朱雀 (zhu que), lit. red bird, is one of the four mythological creatures in Chinese folklore, along with 青龙 (blue dragon), 白虎 (white tiger) and 玄武 (black turtle). In later Taoist practices and astrological diagrams, each of the creatures would preside over one of the four cardinal directions: Red Phoenix in the South, Blue Dragon in the East, White Tiger in the West, and Black Turtle in the North. [return to text]
6Lin Shu’s “Lin” is written as 林 (forest)，which is composed of two 木, meaning wood. [return to text]
7靖 (jing) as in Prince Jing contains the character 青, which means blue, the same as in 青龙 (blue dragon). The emperor is considered to be the earthly personification of the Dragon, so naturally all his children are descendants of the dragon. [return to text]
8People are calling the plum passage quite literally 梅廊 for convenience, but Lin Shu mistakes it for its homonym 梅郎, which is Sir Mei, as in Sir Mei of Jiangzuo. XD [return to text]