“Hua Er, Hua Er! Where are you? Come back to me, please…. please” Echoes of the long dead child was desperate, even frantic. Hua Er tried to grab the outreached hand in the shadows but she just couldn’t reach. Darkness slammed like ocean waves crashing against the haggard rocks drowning the helpless voice. She was falling away and the desolate voice was leaving, still asking her not to go… asking her to find…to find what? Hua Er drifted farther and farther, the more she tried to find the voice, the less she was able to grasp it. And it was gone
Hua Er gasped and opened her eyes. Sunlight streamed in fat golden beams through plain wooden windows with pasted rice paper. She blinked and frowned, the ceiling looked like caked mud, it was so different from the usual opulence of the palace. Where was she? Suddenly it hit her like a slap across the face. She bolted up right. The princess. Assassin chasing them. A figure gleaming in white….
Hua Er jerked up right and tried to move her legs. The dull throb bursted into a searing sharp pain. She gritted her teeth, she had to find the princess.
“Don’t move! You’ll break my stitchings!” A baby faced young man ran to push her back down onto the bed. Hua Er’s eyes narrowed, she grabbed the man’s hand and twisted. Down he went, crumpling in pain under her firm grip. “Ah! That hurts you crazy woman?” He howled, “I just saved your life, were you raised by wolves?”
Hua Er stared at him coldly, “I’m barely using my strength. Who are you? I was with my young master, where is he? Speak quickly if you want to keep that hand.”
“I’m the idiot who saved you, you pig brained buffoon of a girl” Doctor Li huffed , “And as for your young master, Long Hui has taken the her home.”
“What do you mean, taken the her home?” Hua Er gasped, she felt ice close around her heart. “Answer me or die.”
“Zhu Er, the little girl dressed as a boy, that came with you, said that her father would be worried, so Long Hui offered to take her home .” The Doctor gasped as he tried to wrench himself from Hua Er’s iron clasp, “And she agreed.”
“Great heavens… That foolish girl.. how could she trust anyone… without me there to…” Hua Er snarled, her leg throbbed and her world spun, everything was going out focus. She tried to glare at the doctor, but he had put some strange bottle under her nose. “Get that bottle away….away…I’m going to kill you when I wake up” She muttered and fell back onto the bed.
Doctor Li sighed in relief as his patient fell back asleep. He quickly closed the bottle of “Dreamless night” again, taking care to not breathe in the fumes. But when he tried to get up, he realized that Hua Er was still gripping his wrist tightly. He tugged and pulled, with the sinking realization that Hua Er was just as strong asleep as she is awake. He sat down in morose desperation and moaned, “Xu Long Hui, why do I help you?”
“How long did you know that I was the princess?” Yu Zhu said through her hooded cloak as she held on to back of Long Hui’s belt. They were galloping through the great road from the city to the palace.
“When i saw you.” Long Hui replied as he flicked the reins.
“How?” Yu Zhu was curious. That night after they made sure Hua Er was safe, Long Hui had taken Yu Zhu aside and knelt before her, telling her that he was part of the Qin Hu Regiment under Hong Yan Su. He had show her the bronze tag and she knew he was telling the truth. After that, she agreed to let him take her home, Hua Er was in no condition to travel. Yu Zhu knew that if Hua Er woke up, she would and make the trip herself, maybe doing more harm to her injuries the process. Yu Zhu was not going to let that happen.
“When you saw me?” Yu Zhu was confused, “But how did you recognize me, I’ve never been out of the palace in my life.”
“I recognized Hua Er.” Was the quiet reply. “I had seen her, once, a long long time ago and I remember her. And I knew you from Hong Yan Su’s descriptions.”
Hua Er nodded, it made sense to her. Then she lit up, distracted “What’s Hong gege like in the army?”
Long Hui thought for a moment, “Hong Yan Su a good commander, one day he could lead this country to greatness. The Hong family is powerful, and Hong Yan Su is the heir to an ambitious house.”
Hua Er smiled delightedly, “Hong Gege is my favorite, and papa likes him.”
“Ah, and what is the Emperor like”
Yu Zhu thought for a moment, ” Papa is always busy and serious, but visits me whenever he’s home from fighting wars. Papa likes to laugh at me, he says that I remind him of my mother. She died a long time ago.”
“I’ve heard of the legendary story.” Long Hui replied as the palace loomed in sight, the gold rooftops gleaming in the sunset sky. “It was said that the entire palace was in siege when a power hungry lord tried to usurp the throne during the Emperor’s absence, but the Empress used her wits and strength to fight and defend it with only a few hundred men.”
“I was so small I don’t remember. All I know is my mama and brother died that day.” Yu Zhu sighed, “I would have liked to met him, my brother.”
Yu Zhu nodded, “He was the royal heir to the throne, but he died, along with almost all of the royal children in the harem. He was only ten.”
“I’m sorry if this makes you sad.” Long Hui said quietly.
Yu Zhu shook her head as if to clear the bad thoughts, “I wish I knew him. He would’ve played with me and taken me out the palace to see the world.”
“Do you wish to see the world?”
Yu Zhu nodded eagerly, “All my life I’ve been told that I can not go out, that its too dangerous for someone like me.” Yu Zhu was wistful, “But I will always live in a golden box.”
They rode in silence, as the palatial red gates studded with gold bolts came into view. “Princess, remember you promised me a favor last night?” Long Hui said as he slowed the horse to a walk. They were at the many side gates of the palace, Yu Zhu, not wanting to attract attention, had asked Long Hui to take her to the tradesmen entrance.
“I remember.” Yu Zhu whispered as their horse joined the crowd of palace cooks, maids, and eunuchs. She had a debt to Long Hui for saving their lives. She wondered what he would ask for, he did not seem the type to care for gold or riches.
He slide off the horse and helped Yu Zhu down as well. They joined the line of people waiting to get into the palace. “I will watch to make sure that the captain recognizes who you are. I’m sure your father has already stationed men at every gate who know what you look like.”
“you aren’t going up with me?” Yu Zhu felt sad, as if she was losing a friend.
“Your guards might try and attack a stranger like me. A misunderstanding will delay me getting back to make sure Hua Er is alright.”” He patted her shoulder, ” You and I both know that I can not go into the palace without a personal invitation from the Emperor. Once you are safely home, I would like you to do something for me.”
“What would you like?” Yu Zhu asked.
“I would like a private audience with the King, your father.” Long Hui got out of the line as Yu Zhu approached the gate. ” Once Hua Er is better, I will make sure she comes back safely as well. Until next time, Zhu Er.”He bowed to her and melted into the crowd.