The third lunar month, 43rd year of the ten heavenly stems and twelve earthly branches. Spring was drawing to a close.
That year, Xiao Jinxiu had yet to turn seven. Vernal rays of light sprinkled over the entirety of the palace grounds. Her long, jet-black hair brushed against the ground as she sat on her father’s lap while reciting an excerpt from a common folksong. 
Then, that person from Chen Country arrived. The youth, a prince being kept away from his homeland as hostage, followed the sound of her young and tender voice as he walked into the palace hall. He bowed and prostrated.
The youth was under twenty years of age. His face was made up of a sharp jaw and fair skin. A small red mark was imprinted between his brows, akin to a red-crowned crane – alluring and highly venomous. He was cold and indifferent, yet extremely good looking.
At her side, a few palace maids were whispering amongst themselves, saying how he was a prince sent by Chen Country as an envoy, and how his countenance was picturesque.
Jin Xiu was born blind, unable to see. At her young age, she had no idea what a ‘picturesque countenance’ meant and started to become curious. She perked her ears and listened in carefully, her body wrapped snuggly with a brocade blanket. She crawled down her father’s lap and landed with a thud, before scampering over with bare ankles.
The youth was kneeling silently in place with his forehead in contact with the ground. His slender body was bent into a rigid arc as he remained there unmoving.
“Princess, be careful not to catch a cold!” As the palace maids raised their voices in shock, the youth slowly raised his head.
The tiny girl’s floor-length black hair swept the ground as she ran towards him. A smooth and round pearl dangled around her neck, it’s surface glistening. Natural gold strands within the pearl formed a life-like water lily. This precious lotus pearl was a tribute offered by Chen Country, together with him. At a glance, the youth’s ink-black eyes seemed to be suppressing something indiscernible.
Standing steadfastly before him, Jin Xiu’s slender fingers caressed his cheeks timidly. She blinked her large eyes and whispered childishly, “My name is Jin Xiu… Big brother, what is your name?”
Her touch on his face was both warm and tender, causing his body, which was wrought with cold, to revive up instantly.
The child standing before him was simple-minded and innocent. In what way could she be cherished and protected, so that her delicate self could remain untainted in the palace?
The youth eyes were fixated on her for a short time. Suddenly, his lips curled upwards, and in the blink of an eye, his originally beautiful visage became even more enchanting. He spoke softly, “My name is Chen Ruo.”
Indeed, his name was Chen Ruo. He was the oldest son of Chen Country’s empress, the future heir to the throne. After a losing the war, he was sent to the enemy country Dayue as an envoy to be made hostage.
It was the 27th year of the reign of Emperor Longqing. Among the two of them, one was her father’s most precious treasure, a seven-year-old princess pampered by the Dayue court. The other was an eleven-year-old prince, sent as an envoy by a defeated country.
His fate was undecided and his future looked bleak.
Her beauty was bountiful and her prospects were resplendent.
They were at the starting point of their life, and they were standing shoulder to shoulder at the same intersection.
Jin Xiu liked him that much.
It might have been because there were few children her age in the palace, for ever since that day, Jin Xiu would cling onto Chen Ruo incessantly.
When Chen Ruo climbed a tree to pluck flowers, she would follow as well. After which, she would hang pitifully from the tree, refusing to be carried by anyone else except Chen Ruo.
The eleven or twelve-year-old youth’s feeble frame also buckled and fell when he received her into his arms. Her elbows even got scraped, but at that moment, under the falling petals of the snow pear tree, the flowers brushed against her black glistening hair. She chortled and reached out for his hands, only allowing him alone to carry her.
This was not an isolated occurrence. Every day, Jin Xiu would always behave like a docile and delicate kitten as she nestled in his arms. She would coo his name softly, Ah Ruo, Ah Ruo, with utmost trust – with such a degree of warmth and affection.
Speaking to her warmly, laughing with her warmly, gently caressing her hair. Whenever he caught sight of the luminous lotus pearl dangling from her neck, the resentment would gradually tide again.
In the deep recesses of the palace, what rights did she have to be so innocent and kind? Among the things that raised her to possess such innocence, did it include the flesh and blood of his Chen Country?
Such a thin neck, only a slight force would be needed to snap it.
As Chen Ruo got carried away by his thoughts, the smile on that face that seemed to belong to a celestial beauty became even gentler. A soundless sigh followed, and despite his resentment, he tightened his hold around the tiny girl in his embrace. She was so kind, and in his enemy’s palace, she was his only warmth.
The year Chen Ruo turned nineteen, his second brother Chen Lan who was raised by the empress due to his mother’s early passing, travelled a few thousand miles to bring him a piece of terrible news – His mother, who had always been sickly, had finally been diagnosed to be at terminal stages of her illness,
His younger brother, the child who was one year younger than him, sprawled onto the icy-cold ground of the Dayue palace courts, pleading with the emperor to let Chen Ruo leave. He was willing to take Chen Ruo’s place as the hostage.
The man seated on the jade throne laughed at the sight. Finally, he chuckled lightly, “You are merely the son of a palace maid. Do you really think you are qualified to become the hostage?” After which, he flicked his sleeves and exited.
He received such humiliation, only because his country was lacking in power.
The gloominess emanating from Chen Ruo could be sensed. The sightless young lady sitting beside him gripped his sleeves, but Chen Ruo silently broke out of her grasp. Slowly, he walked forward and helped his little brother up – The one who was still sprawled on the floor, the one who he doted on since they were young. He carefully brushed away the dust on his body, held him by the hand, and led him out of the palace hall.
His motherland was being assaulted by the winds and the rain, and within the palace courts of his enemy, the only thing he possessed apart from himself was his little brother, one who was connected to him by blood.
Behind him, Jin Xiu’s soft and feeble voice rang out. Chen Ruo did not look back.
Following which, the voice that called out his name became even louder, before diminishing once again. In the end, the voice simply became a strand melded into the wind, like a broken string tossed into the distance.
It was only three days after this incident did Chen Ruo meet Jin Xiu once again.
That day, he had just returned with Chen Lan from a meeting with the diplomatic envoy sent by Chen Country. It was late at night, and the moment he pushed the door open, he saw a frail girl standing at the entrance.
The moment he caught sight of Jin Xiu, Chen Ruo thought that she cried. On closer inspection, he realised that those were simply droplets of night dew which condensed on her eyes, coalescing to form tiny drops which rolled down.
He bade his brother to leave, before walking forward silently. That young girl raised her head, and those eyes which could clearly see nothing looked fixedly at him. Then, she stretched out her arms, and just like their younger days, sought for a hug.
Nothing had changed, it was still the same warm and soft body.
She seemed to have become lighter? Chen Ruo suddenly thought. The impact of her collision seemed different when he compared it to their childhood days. The present Jin Xiu was akin to a water lily that could be easily drowned by a single wave. No, it was him. During this long period, he had slowly grown up.
The tiny young girl reclined on his shoulders and asked in a soft voice, “… Does Ah Ruo want to leave Dayue?”
Chen Ruo was stunned for a moment. Hasn’t she been making a fuss over the past few days while waiting for him to return and coax her? Why had she suddenly asked such a question?
When she did not receive his reply, the young girl slowly stretched out her arm towards him to stroke his face.
She usually touched him like this. She knew his changes better than he knew himself. Following which, Jin Xiu spoke in a voice that sounded like she was about to break into tears. She repeated again and again. Ah Ruo, I can help you leave Dayue.
What Jin Xiu passed to him was an official pass that permitted free and unimpeded movement through the borders of Dayue. It was a merchant’s permit, and with this, he could leave Dayue without a hitch.
The emperor of Dayue was a ruthless and formidable person, and no matter how much he doted on Jin Xiu, obtaining so many of such passes was definitely not an easy feat.
As it turned out, these days, she had been preparing this.
She could see through his every thought, and there was no need for words or hints. It was as though they had a tacit understanding of one another.
Under the candlelight, he glanced at the permit, and he could still vaguely feel her warmth on its surface. And then, his brother laughed – The one who shared only half his blood and yet bore the closest resemblance to him, almost an exact copy of his likeness.
“Older brother, you should leave first. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make it in time.” Chen Lan said this with a grin. He was just as handsome, but did not share the same frail and wane complexion as him. Rather, he was more placid and calm.
You leave with the diplomatic envoy, I’ll remain here, said Chen Lan.
Chen Ruo suddenly fell into daze. They actually even had such similar voices.
Indeed, as long as he hid in the horse carriage as the diplomatic envoy was leaving, and if Chen Lan hid in the sleeping chambers–
No—Chen Ruo raised his head abruptly, only to see his brother standing in the middle of the fuzzy candlelight, cautiously and slowly bowing towards him – They had grown up together, he had always been cheeky, warranting punishment from the palace maids countless times. He never addressed him as ‘royal brother’, but rather, called him older brother.
Such propriety – It was the first time for this eighteen year old youth, and to Chen Ruo, it was his first time as well.
Chen Lan’s ink black hair reflected a deep and solemn shade of darkness. His voice seemed to rise out from the depths of the waters, and did not resemble that of a teenager’s…
His beloved brother, was speaking to him with the identity of a subject.
“Our father his majesty is cowardly and pampers those fawning concubines. Our royal mother has been wrought with a chronic illness, powerless to manage the affairs of the rear court. The daughter of a minister, an imperial concubine, now has control over the rear court. She is without a son, but has forcibly taken another’s son to raise as her own. This subject has been weak and powerless and must implore your highness. Royal mother is now on the brink of passing, and his majesty already has plans to instate a new empress. If royal brother does not return now, the position as crown prince would be in position of someone else. With a weak country and incompetent master, powerful officials and scheming concubines, how will Chen Country continue to exist?”
His brother said it in this way.
Chen Ruo remained silent for a period, and suddenly laughed out loud!
His laughter came and went without any warning. Just as his echo was reverberating in the candlelight, his callous voice seemed to freeze everything.
“I want to return.” He said, “I will not hesitate to pay any cost—“
Chen Lan raised his eyes to look at him. After which, he prostrated and plastered his forehead onto the ground.
Tears surged from the eyes of the sixteen-year-old teenager.
Ten days later, the diplomatic envoy from Chen Country set off–
And on that day, Jin Xiu discovered that the hostage prince of Chen Country had secretly been swapped – She was the only one who found out.
Chen Lan was very curious about this. Jin Xiu leaned against the window without giving a response. She only stared out of the windows with her eyes that could not see.
After some time, Jin Xiu’s voice finally rang out slowly.
The sound of footsteps is different… When Ah Ruo walks, his steps are light, and his pace is slow. He likes to walk in a straight line, and from the entrance of the courtyard to the corridor, he takes exactly twenty steps.
As she said this, she flashed a faint smile. Chen Lan was stunned, and a line slipped out of his mouth. Do you like my older brother?
He did not know why he had asked such a question.
Of course. Jin Xiu replied softly. A light blush flushed her face, although she was shy, there was no hesitation at all.
I like Ah Ruo, I like him very much. I only want to be with him. If he’s happy, I’m cheerful as well. If he’s upset, I’m sad as well. That day, the weather was good and the sky was like a mirror. Jin Xiu wore a misty white palace dress, her sleek and silky black hair fluttered like spring water as she rested her face on her hand. Under the vivacious sunlight, a thin and translucent layer of makeup rippled on her exquisite face. Her beauty was something that this vulgar world should not have possessed.
At that moment, Chen Lan felt something within his heart smashing through the surface. It was tender and brought warmth, and at the same time, it carried a bitter taste that seem to ripple and spread through him.
Mm…… Very good…. he murmured. He himself did not know why he said that. He only felt that it was good, really very good.
For such a beautiful person to love his older brother so deeply. It was very good.
Really very good.
 Midnight song, a folksong depicting the first meeting of a couple deeply in love.