AN: So I decided to give the new HZGG try and it wasn't quite as awful as I anticipated. I was quite amused by it actually and liked all the additional sappy scenes, especially between Qing-er and XiaoJian. There's something to be said about a white guy who speaks such good Mandarin as well. But there's a scene between ZiWei and XinRong that wouldn't leave me be. ZiWei and Qing-er was trying to convince XinRong not to marry Yongqi because he was already in love with XYZ and wouldn't bring her happiness. XinRong, on the other hand, pointed out that she's marrying not for love or happiness but for status and position and that ZiWei and Qing-er should do the same. She even implied ZiWei was a scarlet woman for thinking about love so much. As much as I don't like her character, I can't help but feel sorry for her. Especially later in the show when Yongqi finally does the deed with her when she gets him intoxicated and the entire time he's saying XYZ's name and thinks XinRong is XYZ. It's her own fault, but that's an awful thing for any woman to experience, especially her first time. Regardless, enough rambling on my part…on with the story that wouldn't leave me alone.
Five years had passed since Yongqi left the Imperial City. True to his word, the Emperor had announced that the beloved Fifth Prince had passed away from an early illness. The whole court went into proper mourning and the truth was never mentioned or discussed in public. Nonetheless, ZW and EK made certain to pass on news discretely whenever they received letters from DaLi. HS was gladdened to hear tales of XYZ being kept busy by her twins who both inherited her spiritedness and that YQ had become a well-loved and respected teacher in the school XJ established. LFY likewise felt soothed that XiaoJian was providing well for Qing-er and that Qing-er also had a son and daughter (whom XYZ did indeed nickname Little Moon) to keep her company. Over the years, LFY had come to love ZW, in whom she saw many of the same characteristics as Qing-er. She was especially glad whenever ZW brought her son, the darling of the Fu family, to visit. This particular day, Ling Fei also brought 15-A-Ge and LFY felt less lonely with the laughter of children ringing around her. When the children were laid down for their afternoon nap, the three women took a welcomed tea break. After sharing the latest news regarding the ones in DaLi, ZW gently excused herself to visit Shu Fang Zhai and share the news with the six loyal servants.
LFY smiled at her grand-daughter's retreating back and said to Ling-Fei: "That ZiWei, her kindness is truly an inspiration. I have never seen servants as loyal as the six from Shu Fang Zhai. Everyone from the royal kitchen to the physician's helpers speak of her gentleness and how she treats everyone so fairly."
Ling Fei nodded: "She is truly an example for the rest of us. All the other Ah Ge's, Ge Ge's, and Niang Niang's have started treating their servants better because they see how devoted the Shu Fang Zhai six still are."
LFY sighed: "I hope that maybe she can help XinRong. Since YuFei passed this past year, the poor girl has secluded herself and little MianYi. I can't help but feel responsible since it was I who appointed that ill-fated marriage. I didn't understand then, but I think I do a little more now the happiness that mutual love can bring to a marriage. Just seeing ZW and EK together makes me glad that my Qing-er also has someone."
Ling Fei replied: "LFY, you mustn't blame yourself. XinRong is still young, she might still have a chance at happiness. I heard that Mongolia's third prince was must taken with her while he visited two years ago."
LFY nodded: "So he was. Somehow I managed to convince her to dance at the banquet. HS mentioned that the prince asked for her hand in marriage, but she declined and said she needed to wait on her mother-in-law. Now that YuFei has passed, perhaps she'll finally agree."
The object of the ladies' conversation was at present sitting in a padoga in the Imperial Gardens. Ever since HS declared YQ's death, she often found herself at the padoga. The years had been kind to XinRong and she still retained her beauty. She held on stubbornly to her pride and tried to convince herself that her status as Rong Qing Wang Fei was enough, but her eyes held a certain sadness and wistfulness that grew more pronounced whenever she saw EK and ZW together at Imperial functions. She looked around the padoga and smiled sadly at the irony that she had chosen the location to be her refuge. She still remembered how ZW and Qing-er had tried so hard to convince her not to marry Yongqi in the same location. How blinded she had been to her own self-righteousness, to her expectations of a lofty future that seemed so certain. It had taken her years to come to grips with the reality that YQ wasn't coming back, not for her, not for Yu Fei, and not even for MianYi. She had initially been filled with anger and bitterness and a wild jealousy and purposefully made snide comments about ZW both to her face and behind her back. She took a certain twisted pleasure in seeing ZW's smiles fade and EK's whole body tremble with suppressed rage. But ZW never fought back but would rather clasp onto EK's hand and gently shake her head at him. EK would look at her concernedly but sigh and let the comments pass. The envy she felt at their unspoken communication and closeness only made her comments more biting and acid until even LFY made a note to admonish her in a private audience. Poor YuFei lived in a haze after YQ left and was oblivious to XinRong's troubles. XinRong did her duties and took care of her mother-in-law, but it was a relief when the poor woman finally closed her eyes for the last time. Her musings were interrupted when she heard the sound of footsteps passing through the garden. She looked out from the padoga and saw ZiWei walking through on her way to Shu Fang Zhai. Impulsively, XinRong called out: "Zi Wei Ge Ge, won't you join me for a cup of tea?"
Both Zi Wei and Gui Mo Mo looked at XinRong in shock, but years of conditioning took over and GuiMoMo approached the table to set up another place set. ZW blinked at XinRong for a split second but then quickly recovered. She approached the padoga with a warm smile, greeted XinRong kindly, and thanked Gui Mo Mo for her service.
Gui Mo Mo muttered the proper greetings and then returned to her post near the entry into the padoga, just far enough for propriety, but close enough that she would hear any conversation.
ZW took a sip of her tea and patiently waited for XinRong to speak first.
XinRong looked at ZW's serene face and said: "ZWGG, you must be wondering why I called you over."
ZW nodded: "I must admit, I am quite curious. We have never been…friendly…with each other."
XinRong laughed dryly: "No, we haven't. I have given you many reasons to hate me."
ZW, however, shook her head: "I don't hate you."
XinRong looked surprised: "Why not? I stole your sister's husband, I insulted your honor, I hinted at your mother's looseness, I made insinuations about EK's intentions…I still remember the words from years ago, about how I of all people should be clear on who stole whose husband."
ZW shrugged: "What would hate do really? I admit I was deeply hurt and I think EK wanted to do you serious harm consequences be damned, but what would it have solved? Nothing. At the end of the day it was your choice and though you ruined my dear sister's happiness, I didn't think you would have gained much happiness for yourself. In truth, though I was upset, I also pitied you."
XinRong smiled humorlessly: "You pitied me? Who would have thought? At the time, I had pitied you for your delusions of love. You had no official title, never mind that everyone addressed you as Ge Ge. Without the Emperor, you had no influence or position at this court. And me, though I wasn't really a Ge Ge, I had my family's influence and my father's position. I was certain to be if not Empress, then at least a Wang Fei someday. But as things turned out, you still ended up winning."
ZW shook her head: "XinRong, it's not about winning or losing."
XinRong replied: "Oh, I know you don't see it that way. I see you and EK together. Your happiness is so obvious a blind man can see it. I know you care nothing for position or influence or power and goodness knows why, neither does EK. Nonetheless, HS favors you two, especially since YQ left. Strange, you two who care so little for material wealth hold the most sway at this court should you choose to use it. With the Empress pretty much under house arrest, Ling Fei is Empress in all but name. LFY has even come to dote on you. And yet, you go through life blissfully unconcerned. You don't play the politically name. You're maddeningly nice to EVERYONE. Sometimes, I really don't understand you."
ZW smiled gently: "Like I said, XinRong, it's not about winning or losing. The greatest joy I have is being able to spend my life with the one I love and to bring cheer and happiness to those I care about. If somehow me being nice can bring everyone closer together, make this family more cohesive, and create a better home in the Palace for everyone, then I thank the heavens for giving me the opportunity to do so. I only hope someday you can find the same happiness."
XinRong took a sip of her tea: "Sometimes, ZWGG, I truly think we're from two different worlds. But you might be right. It's taken me years to come to grasp with this reality. But I've thought about your words from long ago, about how every woman needs a man who will wholehearted love her and her only. I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard, but these past few years, I've seen the truth. You and EK have shown me the truth…There's something I've never told anyone, but somehow I feel the need to share it with you."
ZW softly interjected: "Are you sure you want to share it with me?"
XinRong nodded: "It's hard to admit that I'm wrong, that I've been wrong about everything, but yes. I think I need to get this out in the open."
ZW nodded but gestured subtly in Gui Mo Mo's direction.
XinRong caught her movement, turned to Gui Mo Mo, but directed her words at ZW: "I don't mind. I think she needs to hear this too. I thank her for all the help and support she's given me over the years, but I think she needs to understand as well."
ZW nodded again: "If you're certain."
XinRong turned back to ZW: "I am. I remember I told you and Qing Ge Ge that you two should forget about love and focus on more important goals. And I truly believed it, at the time. But even before YQ was…gone…I began to doubt. You probably wondered, given how much YQ loves…her…how he could have given me MianYi. If he hadn't touched me on our wedding night, how then could he do such a thing after he had run away with her oncealready? And I have to tell you, he couldn't. He tried to, but he couldn't do it. Gui Mo Mo had to give me a special wine that made him hazy for him to actually have relations with me. ZWGG, I had accepted that he didn't want me. But I thought as a man he would be able to complete the deed. But I underestimated his love for her. And even then, the name on his lips wasn't mine, it was hers. The whole time, I told myself that it didn't matter, nothing mattered, I just needed to have his child, then everything would be secured. My position, my future, everything. But it hurt. I didn't want it to, but it hurt. Not just physically…I have my pride too, any woman does. And to have him think of me as someone else…I knew I didn't have his love, but I didn't even have his lust! I know, this topic is not one for polite company and I am sorry if I embarrassed you, but I just needed to share it with someone. I have held this hurt within me for years now. Every time I look at MianYi, I see my hurt, my shame, and my own stupidity. He is my son, but he is so like his father. He looks at me with those eyes and I can't bear to grow close to him, knowing it's my fault he's growing up without a father, that it's my mistake bringing him into this world….I know that YQ didn't really die. I know where he is. I know he's happy…with her. And I know he's not coming back. YuFei told me that YQ told her, when MianYi was born, that he was a present. She thought nothing of it at the time, but when YQ left, she understood. And it's all my fault…"
ZW was touched by the genuine sorrow XinRong was showing. Over the years, ZiWei had given little thought to XinRong beyond a staunch refusal to let the young woman's words and behavior hurt her. As the words poured out of XinRong, however, ZiWei couldn't help but feel immense sadness. She thought of her mother, who waited a lifetime for a love who never returned. 'But at least there was love,' ZiWei thought to herself, 'XinRong doesn't even memories of love to hold on to.' In that moment, ZiWei saw clearly the tragedy of both XinRong and YuFei's fate. She moved to sit next to XinRong and wrapped her arms around the grieving WangFei.
The warmth of ZiWei's arms seemed to open a floodgate and XinRong clung on to her and sobbed. Years of pent-up tears rolled down her face. The whole time, ZiWei just gently held XinRong and allowed her to release her frustrations. After a while, XinRong quieted and drew away from ZiWei: "You must think me ridiculous. It might even be a victory to you, to see me without my pride."
ZiWei only handed XinRong her handkerchief to dry her tears and said: "No, I feel no victory, only sadness for you. For all the women in this gilded jail of a Palace who share your fate. It only makes me treasure my good fortune more. I also feel a certain pride for you; admitting to one's mistakes is not an easy task. Showing your emotions to one you perceive to be an enemy must be difficult as well. Sometimes I think the big problem in the palace is that everyone keeps their emotions behind masks, I don't think it's a healthy way to live. But XinRong, it's not too late for you…HAM mentioned that the third Mongolian prince sought your hand in marriage. From what I could see, he seemed must taken with you and seemed to feel genuine affection for you. HAM told him you needed time and he has patiently waited for your answer."
XinRong sighed: "You fought for your happiness ZWGG, you deserve to have the joy that you do. As for me…I don't know if I deserve a second chance at happiness."
ZW replied: "Everyone deserves a second chance. Of course, if you feel nothing for the Mongolian prince, then you're in the right to refuse."
XinRong looked at her thoughtfully: "I don't know if I feel anything for him or not; I'm not used to consulting my emotions on issues such as this. I have heard that he is a good man. I can also tell from the way he treats his servants and their loyalty to him. I know he has yet to wed either. But if I go to Mongolia, what will happen to MianYi? I am not close with my son and while he pays his respects to me, he does so seemingly mechanically, not like the way Dong-er's eyes glow whenever he sees you. I don't think he will miss me terribly if I go. It's not like I can bring him along with me…what man will want to raise a son not their own? Besides, what of MianYi's status?"
ZW shook her head: "You might underestimate this prince. I heard he is already raising his late sister's child, a daughter. If he truly cares for you, then he should also care for MianYi. As for MianYi's status, I don't think it will change whether or not you marry. HAM treasures him too much to let his status be shaken. Besides, this way, the prince will not have to worry about MianYi's future or the possibility of MianYi stealing the position of any sons the prince fathers."
XinRong shrugged: "Maybe…maybe I'll give him a chance."
ZW nodded: "Not just him, XinRong, also give yourself a chance at happiness. I have already forgiven you; I don't think I ever truly blamed you. Now you must forgive yourself. I think you have paid enough for your mistakes. Don't let MianYi carry the burden as well; he is just a child, and children need to be loved."
XinRong smiled sadly: "Love? Sometimes I wonder if I am possible of the selfless kind of love you possess. Every decision in my life has had ulterior motives, I don't know if I can love so blindly."
ZW reached out to grasp XinRong's hand: "But you must try. For MianYi's sake and for your own. And I'm sure YQ would have wanted you to be happy too. I truly believe even XYZ would have wanted you to have a chance."
XinRong nodded: "I will try. I have no great hopes of succeeding, but I will try. Will you help me? Will you bring Dong-er to visit? I think MianYi is too much alone for a child of his age. Maybe it'll do him good to have friends."
ZW smiled: "Of course. I can ask no more of you than trying."
XinRong sighed, but this time the sigh seemed not one of sorrow but one of relief: "ZWGG, thank you."
ZW looked bewildered: "Whatever are you thanking me for?"
XinRong replied: "For giving me a second chance, for convincing me that my story also deserves a happier ending."
ZW smiled warmly: "Are we not family? You were, after all, married to my brother. That makes us sisters too. I would do no less for any sister and friend."
XinRong asked: "Are we friends?"
ZW: "Maybe not yet, but I think we will be. We have no need for the ghosts of the past to haunt us."
XinRong smiled: "I think I'd like that."
ZW nodded: "Good. Now, I'm afraid I must take leave of you, the six at Shu Fang Zhai are still awaiting news from me."
XinRong nodded: "Then I shan't keep you."
ZW rose from her seat, bid XinRong good-day, and turned to resume her walk to Shu Fang Zhai. At the padoga's steps, she paused briefly and turned to Gui Mo Mo: "Gui Mo Mo, thank you for your care of my sister. I know I don't need to tell you to keep helping her, but please, also take care of yourself."
As ZW's figure faded from view, Gui Mo Mo approached XinRong, who turned towards her with a smile: "Gui Mo Mo. You needn't worry any more about me. ZWGG has convinced me. I know you are suspicious of others and their hidden motives, but I know ZWGG truly wishes me well. In some ways, I'm glad she left this Palace when she married; she is far too kind and sees too much good in people to belong to this place of many sorrows. But perhaps her hope is truly possible, perhaps our way of life can truly be changed. Perhaps I too have choices and power over my fate. Come, let us go visit MianYi. If I am to learn to love, then he is a good starting point."
Months later, as XinRong dressed again in bridal red, ZW was with her. The atmosphere for the second wedding seemed much different than the first. The bridegroom did not seem like he was walking towards a funeral but truly seemed happy, as though he had won a great prize. The bride herself also smiled with true joy. While she certainly didn't love the prince with the intensity ZW and EK shared, she respected him and was fond of him and was hopeful that the feeling would turn to love someday. Most of all, she was proud of her much improved relationship with her son. MianYi stood next to his new father as the prince accepted congratulations and well-wishes and also had a smile on his face. The child had truly grown to idolize the prince who showed genuine affection for him. Right before the time for XinRong to alight the carriage that would take her to a new life, the bride held ZW's hands: "Thank you ZW, thank you for everything."
ZW smiled: "No need to thank me. YQ and XYZ also wish you joy. YQ wrote a letter for MianYi, please be sure to get it from me before you have to leave for Mongolia. It's up to you how much you want to tell the child. But I think one day he will ask. YQ felt it was important to explain and to tell him that his birth father loved him. I think it will be more bearable for MianYi to have a father now."
XinRong smiled: "It's strange to be marrying again, while knowing my first husband is still alive. But ZW, I feel no shame or guilt. Is that not strange?"
ZW chuckled: "Not strange at all. Go, XinRong, or you'll miss the carriage. It's time for your own happy ending. No, that's not right. It's not an ending, but a new beginning. XinRong, I wish you joy."
XinRong gave ZW a quick hug before the maids lowered the red clothe that obscured her from view. As ZW watched XinRong's departure from the doorway, EK came to join her.
EK: "You have accomplished a great feat. I'm so proud."
ZW turned towards him and smiled: "I did it in part for MianYi's sake, and for my brother's. Even for XYZ's sake. She wrote to me about her concerns. YQ carries a great deal of guilt still, especially once he knew of YuFei's passing. I think he will let those worries rest now. But I also truly believe everyone deserves a second chance. For all her faults, XinRong should have a happier ending. This palace is too full of sorrows for one so young."
EK held her hand: "ZW, I admire you for your kindness and willingness to forgive. I can't help but be reminded of our wedding. If the prince is half as happy as I was that night, then XinRong will have a good life."
ZW looked at him lovingly: "I don't think even the bride can be as happy as I am to be with you and Dong-er, and our little one."
EK looked at her in shock: "ZW? Our little one?"
ZW blushed but smiled: "Yes, I believe it's time Dong-er had a younger sibling."
A huge smile spread across EK's face: "Come! Let us find my wayward son and tell him that he'll be a big brother soon!"
ZW laughed: "Indeed, I fear for the kind of scrapes he and 15-A-Ge can get up to when left together. He is most definitely your son!"
EK laughed and hand-in-hand, the couple went to find their family to share the good news.