"Look! Look! What is that? Why is so colourful? Why is everyone so excited? What are they looking at? What are those people shouting?" Qiu Xin fired question after question at rapid speed as she gestured animatedly, unable to contain her overwhelming excitement.

Her travelling companions could only chuckle in amusement at her obvious enthusiasm.

Perched restlessly on the edge of her seat, the little princess left most of her upper half dangling precariously out of the little window as she drunk in the boisterous sights and sounds hungrily. Her dark orbs flickered wildly from one end to the other, devouring the refreshingly chaotic and bustling marketplace greedily. Bouncing on the balls of the feet, she eagerly shoved herself out further, desperate to get a closer look only to be met with resistance as a sharp tug from behind sent her reeling back inside.

"Qiu Xin, we're about to get off already so be good and stay still. Don't pick up that bad habit of yours again. /秋心,我们都快下马车了,就给我安安分分地坐好,别又犯了你这性急的毛病了."

Pouting, the little girl whined in protest, "But Nana, there's so much to see! / 可是,可是,这实在是好多好多的新鲜玩耶尔呀! 秋心还没看个痛快呀,姥姥!"

The Empress Dowager tapped the little girl lightly on the tip of her nose as she tried to fix the fidgeting child with a stern glare. Her reproaching stance, however, was lost when the little princess simply wrinkled her tiny button nose in response and attempted to stare down the length of it, creating a comical expression in the process.

She could not help it. She laughed.

"Qiu Xin, oh, Qiu Xin, you this little imp! What am I supposed to do with you?/ 秋心啊,秋心啊,真是拿你这丫头没法儿!" she exclaimed exasperatedly, the endearing look adorning her well worn features showing clearly that she held no real intent in her lament.

Grinning mischievously, she declared boldly, "Spoil me of course!/ 那是因为 姥姥、爷爷都这么爱我、疼我呀!"

"And you dare say so! It's because we've spoilt you too much already that you're able to wreck so much havoc, you little devil! /你知道就好! 你这淘气鬼,老是仗着长辈们的宠爱干尽坏事!" the emperor dowager chided lightly, wagging a finger in the princess's face.

Giggling, Qiu Xin flashed her playful brown orbs at the elderly woman as she cheekily replied, "Only a bit, Nana, only a bit! /秋心那儿敢当呀,姥姥!"

Abruptly, a clear, ringing voice that stood out from the rest of the noise shattered her focus as it reached the little princess's sharp ears.

"来阿,来阿! 快来看看呀! 全城最价廉,最出色的字画,都在这! 快来看看呀,来看看!/Come, come, have a look at the best and most reasonable paintings and calligraphy in town!"

Gasping, the little girl trilled, brilliant onyx orbs shining with glee, "Nana, do you hear that? Grandpa's birthday's coming up soon and he loves calligraphy! I do hope it's any good!/ 姥姥! 您听见了吗? 皇爷爷生辰快到了,而他最爱的是字画了!"

Without waiting for a reply, she once again fearlessly stuck her head out, determined to the source of her interest.

At this, the emperor dowager chuckled once more. A leopard would never change its spots.


"来阿,来阿! 快来看看呀! 全城最价廉,最出色的字画,都在这! 快来看看呀,来看看!/Come, come, have a look at the best and most reasonable paintings and calligraphy in town!"

Yu Die stiffly repeated her lines, her heart long since shifted its focus, as she held up a few of her lady's best samples for a better look. She had religiously kept to the routine since the early hours of the day and the novelty of the action had worn off long ago. Her attentions, however, had found a better target: Her young lady.

"Oh, my lady, I hope you're not stirring up any trouble like you tend to right now… /小姐啊,希望你此时此刻还没惹出什么祸端来 了…"


Zi Wei's head snapped up at the soft thud of the door closing. One look at Er Kang's creased brows and downturned lips was enough to give her an answer. Still Er Kang gently shook his head in response to her hopeful expression.

Yong Qi was still stubbornly locking himself up alone.

Zi Wei sighed, her head bowed in defeat.

His comforting large hands took hers, engulfing them in his warmth as he gave her delicate hands a light squeeze. Zi Wei returned the gesture, gazing deep into his knowingly melancholic orbs with a doleful smile. A rush of love and affection overwhelmed her. Er Kang was her perfect match in every way.

Tugging on her hand, Er Kang said playfully with a soft grin, "Let's go. You wouldn't want to be the cause of the Emperor of China's empty stomach, would you? /走吧. 你也不想让中国皇帝因为我们饿着了吧?"

Laughing lightly, Zi Wei shook her head and let Er Kang tow her towards the rest of the party waiting at the restaurant below their temporary lodgings. He really was her perfect match.


That voice!

It was plucking painfully at her heartstrings which were echoing a faint tune in response.

A burning desire to peek out from behind the screen engulfed her, drowning out the beautiful strumming of the zither before her, the words of her own melody fading away as everything was reduced solely to that achingly familiar voice and the pounding of her own blood rushing in her ears.

She lost consciousness of what she was doing, the movements her fingers were stiffly reproducing and the notes her throat were robotically mimicking, all of her senses narrowing down to that one source, driving her desperately to float several inches above the seat of the chair, possessed by her strong yearning. Her neck stretched out, craning to hover above the frame of the screen which seemed so far away right then.

That gravelly, baritone echoed incessantly in the open space that had cleared in her heart. His deep, rumbling laugh radiated such a loving and benevolent vibe that it was tempting to simply melt into a puddle of gooey happiness.

At last, she settled for a tiny gap between the edges of two screens and through that, caught sight of the owner of that regal voice. He was a man of imposing stature, with a solid built but of course, there were signs too of great fortune in his slight overlapping chin and stubby fingers. Yet, he carried himself with the air of nobility, his head held high and powerful voice that demanded attention/ compelling. Even so, she felt a warm sense of kinship in his deeply carved laughter lines, with his thick mustache decorating his upper lip.

And that single glimpse sent all the sights, sounds and scents rushing back to her, filling her like a tidal wave.

"This way please, sir./ 贵客,这边情."

A single voice struck her crystal clear, as the image of its bearer filtered into her line of sight, directing a bunch of wealthy looking customers to the centre of the restaurant, in clear view and hearing of her, as usual. Xia Ying could not resist the urge to roll her eyes. Of course. She could guess what was coming next.

"And over there would be our restaurant's most famous songstress. Please enjoy./ 而在哪儿就是我们如意楼最有名的歌姬,请各位慢慢欣赏" the man announced with pride, gesturing towards the myriads of screens in one corner, where the vague shadow of a lady was blearily imprinted upon the thin rice paper.

The group, which she abruptly realised, included the regal man she had spotted, turned their sights to her at the restaurant owner's gesture in her direction. The imposing man turned his intense gaze n her.

Heart pounding fiercely, Xia Ying ducked away from the tiny peep hole and tried to focus her attention back to her song. Her still drumming heart seemed unwilling to cooperate as beads of sweat rolled upon her porcelain skin. Her trembling fingers fumbled through the notes clumsily while she frantically willed them to obey her. The words stuck in her throat, convulsing on the emotion that had swept her off her feet.

She could feel his eyes on her, his unimpressed tone as he said, "Oh? Is that so?/ 噢?是吗?"

Peeking out that little hole again, she saw how he had turned his back on her and was conversing with a group of beautiful and equally regal looking group of people while the owner had been sent away to be called upon when his assistance was required again and was throwing a worried frown in her direction.

Resigned disappointment washed over her at his easy dismissal. A profound melancholy descended upon her like a cloud. Riding on that wave of emotion, she felt herself smoothly transgressing to a new song, a lost emotion stirring in her.


(Recalling how much tender feelings were sown at the beginning)

She recalled a time where she fallen into such an unknown endless pit of depression her only means of release were through her songs. And this one was the one that had incited her darkest emotions.


(How many past events vaporised in the end)

Her chest tightened, the ball of emotion that knitted there cutting off her airways as she rasped out the words painfully, genuinely pouring the sentiments the song spoke off into her tune.


(All the good memories have just become a source of pain)

Unbeknown to her, an awed silence come over the self same man Xia Ying had locked sights upon, as well as his entire party, along with the rest of the lunch crowd packed at the well known restaurant, as they sat at their table, positioned at a central view of the whole restaurant. The emotions in the unknown songstress's melody were so raw that they chafed at their souls, spawning echoes of her wistful woe within them.

Memories of Xiao Yan Zi evoked by this weeping, mournful strain threatened to drown him in his sorrow. So palpable was his grief he could feel it tightening like a knot around his chest, squeezing excruciatingly. He welcomed it like an old friend, burying himself in its frequent accomplices, Guilt and Blame, who threw accusations and insults at him mercilessly. He bore them willingly.

The song faded away and the trance broke along with it.

Briefly shaking himself, the emperor seemed to have awoken himself from a deep slumber, casting his yet to be focused gaze around the room before finally landing upon the set up of screens.

"我说,刚刚那歌姬还真是挺有两下子的吗./ My, I must say, that was some song, wasn't it?" the Emperor stated, his words laced with clear approval and admiration.

At this, the equally impressed Zi Wei and Er Kang snapped out of their trances and exchanged wary glances. The situation seemed like an ill-boding mirror of the previous upheaval at Xi Hu(West Lake).

Their fears were further renewed as the Emperor beckoned the store owner back to their table, with the Empress Dowager looking upon this with equal horror while the rest watched, none bold enough to voice their thoughts, with bated breath.

"老板,刚刚那歌姬叫什么名字? 我可否见见她?"/ Who was that songstress? Can I meet her?"

Glancing back at the now vacated center stage, the store owner pointed knowingly at the empty space, a sly grin on his face as he spoke, eying the emperor's meaningfully, "您只'银光'吗? 每个来到这的客官都会问同样的问题,但是抱歉,对于银光的身份,我可是无法透露./ Are you talking about 'Silver Light', sir? Every customer who visits our humble restaurant would ask the exact same question. But I'm sorry, sir, I'm in no position to divulge her identity."

While his tone was coated with the slightest bit of gloating, he seemed sincere enough, though his words were already a huge relieve to all the members seated at the table as most released a sigh.

Continuing unexpectedly, the man offered, "不过,我可以试试问她,看她可否有兴趣和贵客在教隐秘的地方碰碰面./ But… I could bring up to her and see if she's interested in meeting you."

The Emperor's countenance brightened up immediately.

"Hurry on then!/ 那就快去吧!" Qian Long urged eagerly, the familiar compelling tone of authority slipping back into his voice easily.

Zi Wei shot Er Kang a distressed look which Er Kang returned with an equally alarmed expression.

Smiling a little too knowingly at his response, the man sauntered back around the partition, casting a long shadow on the pristine white material. The members of the table all watched with bated breath as the inky figure bumbled about clumsily behind the thin material, before emerging alone, a nonplussed expression lining his plain face.

Zi Wei breathed a tiny sigh of relief.

A/N: Okay, this is a rather long and fast update so I hope that would equal to more reviews? And anyway, don't get used to this. It's like the calm before the storm, I have a short holiday before my finals so this is probably gonna be the last in a long time. Anyway, enjoy!