“It seems that you have a lot on your mind tonight.” The Doctor leaned against the rough wooden door frame as the soft melody faded into the silent night. “Old friend, even someone as tune deaf as I can tell that song isn’t a happy one.” Doctor Li rubbed his wrist, Xu Long Hui had to help extract him from Hua Er’s grip.
Xu Long Hui’s icily handsome face was turned to the moon, “I was just reminiscing. How many years ago has it been?”
The doctor sighed and came to sit next to his friend. He had brought a pitcher of his home made plum blossom wine, “When I freed you? ”
The doctor shrugged, “Five or six. You were barely human. It took all my teacher had to revive you.”
Xu Long Hui let out a sad chuckle, “I wasn’t human. But I do owe Master Tan and you my life.”
Doctor Li shook his head,”You are only a demon if you believe yourself to be. You have saved so many lives since then, don’t live in the past.”
Xu Long Hui said nothing, for a moment, both men were quiet, lost in their own thoughts.
“When I met you again, three years ago, I thought you were just a lonely wander, roaming the world.” Doctor Li sighed, he could remember the sight of the handsome Long Hui on his blue roan, traveling with the Emperor’s Army. For a brief while Li Sun had thought Long Hui was fully cured, but seeing him today, he realized the ice in Long Hui’s heart had grown.
“And now? What do you think of me?” Xu Long Hui asked as he poured himself a glass of plum blossom wine and sipped. The sweet spicy wine was perfect for the deepening night.
The doctor was silent for a moment, “I don’t think you came to this kingdom on a whim.”
Long Hui turned around with, the corner of his mouth twitched in a humorless smile, “Enough of your baseless guessing. Shall I tell you a story from my past?”
Doctor Li’s curiosity was piqued, “A story. How rare. You’ve never spoken of your past before. ”
Xu long Hui turned to his friend, the bitter sadness enhanced the beauty of his face, “It is about the day I died.”
Siege of Palace – 10 years ago
Kun Ming Empress Pavilion
“Your Imperial Majesty, I have bought you only a little time. The enemy has broached the western side of the palace gate. And while Lord Lu may spare you for the sake of your beauty, he and Lord Mou will kill and then scatter the ashes of the Crown Prince into the wind once they find him.” A tall, broad shouldered man leaned on a bronze spear as he spoke to his queen, calmly ignoring the rivers of blood that flowed from his arm to pool around his knees.
“We have a carriage waiting to take you and the prince out the hidden gate now.” Even if he had to tie the Empress and her son to a carriage, he would do so, anything to get them out alive.
High on the dais, an impossibly beautiful woman in the regal silver robes sat on the Tiger Throne. Her grey black eyes blinked once in surprise and again in calculated contemplation. Empress Xi Yang Yue was no weakling.
She calmly smiled the general kneeling in front of her, “Honored General Hong, you forget that I am the mother of this nation and the mother of both Crown Prince Han Qin and Princess Yu Zhu. And unless I am a spineless worm, I will defend my home until I die”
She thought quickly, “But it is important that we get the children and the Emperor’s seal out of the palace. To own the Emperor’s Seal is akin to having the Emperor’s authority and I will died before those traitorous bastards lay a finger on it.”
Xi Yang Yue turns to face the open doors, the acrid smell of burning flesh, metal, and cloth was already invading the spring winds, leaving the taste of bitterness in its wake. She turns around, “Prepare the fastest horse for the crown prince and the little princess. Have any of the concubines and their children been able to escape?”
General Hong shook his head, “No, they are trapped in An Ning Pavilion. We don’t have enough men to protect you and get them out.”
Xi Yang Yue glares at him, ” Those children as as royal and precious as the Crown prince. I want every single one of your men to go and get them out! My eunuch will show your men the northern hidden tunnel, I refuse to let to die.”
General Hong refused to be commanded, “I must protect who I can. There are ten thousand enemy men marching towards An Ning Pavilion, and I only have 500 left. This pavilion is the closest to the hidden palace exit. With luck and speed, you have a better chance of surviving.”
Xi Yang Yue descended her dais like an avenging deity. She grabbed the front of his collar and make him look into her fierce eyes. “Fool! I am your Empress and I command you to rescue the other wives and their children. Have your men retreat to An Ning Pavilion, and ask them to protect it with their life.”
She continued, “You are the Commanding General, and you will lead your men to the An Ning paviilion. I will follow you there. Both of us will be a diversion to the traitors, they will assume that the Seal and Crown prince is with me. He won’t look for the crown prince here if he is busy fighting with you and I there. It will buy time for Crown Prince and Princess Yu Zhu to escape through the hidden gate.”
General Hong’s stoic face does not betray the shock he felt at the words of this extraordinary woman. He rose from the ground and strode out of the gilded palace pausing only to order his two most trusted guards to man the gates to the Empress’s palace until they die.
Once he was gone Xi Yang Yue picked up her skirts and rushed into the antechamber.
“Where is Han Qin?” While her voice was still calm, there was a slight quiver of anxiety beneath the surface. The antechamber was in turmoil as the Empress’s closets maids and guards grabbed spears and swords. They were prepared to follow their mistress to war.
“Here, Mother.” Crown Prince Han Qin ran in, carrying the silk bag containing the heavy gold Emperor’s Seal as he rushed to his mother’s side. He did not want to run, but he had read the Art of War and knew that retreat was the best option.
The Empress hid seal in the front of the young boy’s robes “Qin Er, protect this with your life, if the enemy gets their hands on it, they will use it to prove they are legitimate heirs to the throne. You are the only heir. Never forget it.”
The two year old princess was carried into the room by a nervous looking servant girl. The Empress hugged the sleeping little girl tightly before taking a sash and tying her securely around Han Qin’s chest.
A Qiao thrusted a bag of gold into the Crown Prince’s cloak and told the young boy, “Head for the Wu Qing forest, ask for the Xi Yang tribe, they are your kinsmen from my side. Be safe my child, take care of your sister.” The Empress with a look of anguished longing, kissed the heads of her children and whispered, “When you see the Xi Yang tribe, do not forget to show your amulet, they will know who you are.”
The young boy nodded, his eyes gleamed with fierce anger as he rush out with his prized sword and shield into the court yard. They could hear the roar of the fire and the din of clashing swords. An Ning Pavilion was on fire.
Xi Yang Yue sighed as she watched her child for the last time in her life. She swung her longsword and faced her loyal maids. In that moment there were no servants and mistress, just people fighting for the same cause.
She smiled with regal grace and picked up her shield, “It’s time we showed these traitors why they should never anger an Empress.”
Before he met his mother, Han Qin had looked for Hua Er all over the palace, screaming her name even as he had been rushed into Kun Ming Pavilion. While his eyes burned for death of the maids, aunties, and siblings who were now being slaughtered. His heart shattered at the thought of Hua Er’s huddled figure, crying for him to save her.
A young serving girl with a heart shaped face and bewildered eyes came into view as Long Er galloped towards the gate. In that tiny moment, the world muted around him melted as he stared into Hua Er’s face, a face already etched onto his heart. His horse thundered closer and with all his might he came down and scooped up the girl.
She was wrapped safely in his arms, her face looking over his shoulder at the burning palace and the thousand faceless men who aimed their arrows at the two horses. She screamed a warning as a red arrows rained down on them.
Han Qin shifted his body and shield and managed to block most of them. Hua Er sighed in relief as they made it through the gate of the palace, into the dark forest. Yet something was wrong. Han Qin made no sound of pain, but Hua Er could see the damage. Three arrows protruded from Han Qin’s shoulder, their bloodied tips tearing apart his black robes. Han Qin was gravely injured.