“Papa!” Yu Zhu was barely ushered into the inner palace when she heard the pounding hoofbeats and clinking of armor. Her father the Emperor, Hong Yan Su, and a retinue of guards and eunuchs had ridden from his residence once he had heard that Yu Zhu had come back safely.
“Yu Zhu!” The Emperor ran to his only child and crushed her in an enveloping hug. “We’ve searched everywhere.” He held her up and made sure that she was fine. He couldn’t even bear the thought of losing his last child.
The Emperor looked around and frowned, “But where is Hua Er? Is She alright?”
Yu Zhu looked somber and for a moment the Emperor feared the worst. Yu Zhu’s eyes filled with tears as she sniffled, “Hua Er is injured and she’s resting in Doctor Li’s house. This is all my fault because I ran off that night and that’s why we were so late getting home.” Yu Zhu’s tears began to fall in earnest, ” But Long Hui gege said that he will return with Hua Er once she can be moved. I’ms still worried.”
The Emperor knelt down and patted Yu Zhu’s cheek. “Child, calm down. Who is Long Hui?”
Yu Zhu swallowed and gave her father a watery smiled, “Oh I almost forgot, Xu Long Hui is the person who rescued us. He says that he’s part of the army with Hong gege.” Yu Zhu reached into her sleeve and took out heavy bag that was a little bigger than the size of her palm. She handed it to her father. “He said that to give you this when I see you, and that you’ll want to meet him after you see this.”
The Emperor frowned and took the heavy gold silk back and opened it. Inside was a gold dragon seal with jade inlay, encrusted by the rarest of emeralds, rubies and pearls. But it wasn’t the value of the seal that shocked the Emperor. His chest constricted as he beckoned his oldest servant.
“Dan Yi, come here. I think my eyes are deceiving me.” The Emperor called his personal eunuch for the last 30 years. Eunuch Dan Yi came forward and carefully examined the seal, checking its for the hidden flaws only the true Seal would carry. He handed it back to the Emperor, as much in shock as his master, “Your imperial majesty, this is the true Dragon Seal. The very same Emperor’s Seal that has been lost for the past ten years.”
A very small seed of ancient hope grew, a hope he didn’t dare dream of until now. The Emperor immediately ordered Hong Yan Su, “Find this Xu Long Hui immediately. Have him brought to me if he presents himself to the palace.” Hong Yan Su bowed, “As you wish.” and left with a retinue of guards. The emperor he knelt and gently held his daughter’s hand, “Child, tell me everything.”
It was night when Hua Er woke again. she sat up gingerly and realized that her leg felt much better. She looked around and saw the doctor asleep next to her bed. She shook him.
Doctor Li mumbled “five more minutes teacher and then I’ll go up the mountain for the herbs.” Hua Er frowned and shook him harder. He cracked open an eyelid, and froze. He had dozed off after seeing to her wounds. Now he realized he was staring into the face of the same beautiful girl that had threatened to tear off his hand. He jumped up, hit his head on the bed frame and fell onto the floor.
Hua Er stared at the bumbling idiot and wondered just in the world how he had saved her life. The door opened and a young man entered and Hua Er drew out her knives and held it to the doctor’s neck. “where is the youth I came with. Tell me the truth or I will kill this idiot.”
Xu Long Hu froze and said carefully, “I’ve taken the princess back to the palace.” Hua Er’s eyes narrowed, “How did you know she was the princess. We were dressed as noblemen.”
Xu Long Hui smiled, “It’s been a long time Hua Er, don’t you remember me?”
Hua Er frowned, “No, except for when you rescued us, I’ve never seen you in my life.”
Xu Long Hui gazed into her eyes, “Think about my name. Long Hui.”
Doctor Li, seeing that this was a conversation that Long Hui wanted to have privately, got up carefully, “I’ll give you two some privacy” and left quietly.
While she thought Xu Long Hui came closer, “I use to catch butterflies for you in the Jade Garden. You taught me how to climb trees and play tricks on the maids. And sometimes we snuck into banquets to watch the knife throwers that you loved.” Xu Long Hui reached into for a string around his neck. On a red chain held the finest white jade pendant carved with two dragons encircling a midnight pearl. “Remember how you use to say this was the prettiest thing you ever saw?”
Hua Er felt the blood drain out of her face, her hand trembled and the dagger clattered to the floor. She felt as if the world was getting smaller and bigger at the same time.
“But. That’s impossible. Impossible.” Her ragged breathe caught in her throat. “That amulet, it’s Crown Prince’s– I don’t understand.”
Xue Long Hui approached the bed and held out the pendant, “But you do. You know in your heart of hearts, who I am.” Hua Er shook uncontrollably as she felt tears course down her cheeks. Over the years she had wished for a miracle like this, it felt so surreal it would happen.
“You were dead. I saw you die. In the forest after the siege when i couldn’t save you. ” Hua Er felt like she was standing in a windstorm, everything was in turmoil.
“But I didn’t, and I thought of you every day since then.” Xu Long Hui held Hua Er’s hand and placed the pendant into it, “Look at me and deny who I am.”
Hua Er gazed at the intricate pendant, she remembered it better than she had known her own name. She looked into that beautiful face again, really looked for the first time. The shape of his eyes, the straight nose, the elegant smile. There was the ghost of the empress’s features in that face. It might have been ten years, but she knew him.
Hua Er was transfixed, she couldn’t look away and stared hungrily into his face. She had thought about him almost every day, and now he was here again. Alive.
Hua Er brought up a shaking hand and Long Hui’s face to make sure it was real. “Am I dreaming?”
Long Hui caught her hand and pressed it to his cool lips. He pulled her in and hugged her, “I’m here.”
Hua Er felt his arms closer around her, his cool skin against hers, and lived in that moment. “I don’t know why you didn’t come back after all these years, and maybe you’ll tell me later. But I’m just glad you’re back.”
She didn’t see the small cold smile flash across the icily beautiful face as Xu Long Hui replied, “I am too.”
The Emperor stared out onto his kingdom, waiting for Hong Yan Su to return. The commander had sent word that he had not located Xu Long Hui, and the Emperor had recalled him to the palace.
“Your Imperial Majesty, Commander Hong Yan Su and Captain Shan Ying Lang begs audience with you.” Eunuch Dan Yi bowed. The Emperor turned and nodded. Hong Yan Su walk in and knelt.
“Yan Su and Ying Lang, rise.” The Emperor said, “tell me all you now about this Xu Long Hui.”
Hong Yan Su stood, “He joined the army three years ago, saying that he was a traveler from the Jiang Su province.”
“And what is he like as a person?” the Emperor inquired. Hong Yan Su and Shan Ying Lang exchanged a look, it wasn’t like the Emperor to care about a single solider in his army.
“He…” Hong Yan Su hesitated.
“Give me your full report, I need to know the good and bad.” the Emperor ordered
Hong Yan Su frowned slightly as the thought about Long Hui, “He is a brave man, and has saved my life before. We are battle brothers but I can’t help but think that he is a ruthless man. Not cruel, perhaps. But when he kills, he doesn’t hesitate or show any kind of remorse.”
“I see.” Was the cryptic reply.
Hong Yan Su bowed gracefully, “If there is nothing more Your Imperial Majesty, we shall go and look for him.”
“One more question.” The Emperor picked up his brush and wrote three characters. He showed it to the two young men.
“Is this how you write his name?”
Shan Ying Lang nodded, “Yes, how did you know?” Hong Yan Su stepped on his feet, “Don’t ask questions.”
The Emperor was no longer looking at them. He waved his arm and they left his presence.
“What was that all about. Did he call us back just to ask about Long Hui’s name?” Ying Lang grumbled as they saddled his horse.
“Long. Hui.” Hong Yan Su whispered to himself. Impossible. He thought. But if it was true, the answer to this mystery might’ve been in Long Hui’s name all along.
Back in the palace the Emperor wrote the characters Long Hui again.
“Long” The character for Dragon. Only Emperors and Crown princes could call themselves dragons.
“Hui” the character for return.
Long Hui. The Crown Prince Returns.