I confess that I was motivated to finish up Chapter 8 faster because of an anonymous comment describing the little bits she liked from the three male leads. It really touched me! And this is an important chapter for one of those male leads!
We return to the palace and Yu An realises that things are never the same again.
Chapter 8: Secrets Revealed
Hu Zi and Drifter were waiting outside the cave when Yu An and Qing exited. Hu Zi immediately knelt down and greeted Uncle Qing, "Captain Hu Zi pays his humble greetings to Grand Prince Qing."
Qing gestured for him to rise and shook his head, "No need for formalities, I am only a monk. I do not recognise the title you greet me."
Drifter remained aloof on his steed. Qing gave a whistle and his horse sprinted towards him. The quartet made a smooth and silent ride back to the Mo Tribe headquarters.
"Aunt Mo and Uncle Lang," Qing nodded his respects to Grandmother Mo and Master Lang upon reaching the Mo Tribe camp.
No further words were said under the deep veil of the stars. It seemed like all was finally at peace.
The return journey was without any obstacles. Hu Zi was much more willing to be trained by Master Lang on the way back and Drifter remained his silent self. Qing seemed to enjoy the silence and he often went aside by himself to meditate. Sometimes, Yu An and Qing would converse about her childhood and her younger brother, the Crown Prince Hsiao Yang. Yu An remembered Qing's face when she informed him that her brother was a reluctant prince and his dream was to wander the cities as an artist. Qing had a face of wistfulness before he said, "Like his father."
The night before they returned to the Capital, as usual, Qing had went off to meditate, Master Lang and Hu Zi went away to duel, and there was only Drifter and Yu An left at the campsite.
As Yu An fed the camp fire with more firewood, the only sound was the flickering of the fiery tongues of the flames. No, she realised, there was also her heartbeat. Faint but pulsating. She turned to look at Drifter, who was sitting on top of one of the tree branches, as if he was a bird, longing to be released to the sky.
"Drifter," she called out. Her voice wasn't loud but she knew he could hear her.
"Thank you for accompanying me on this journey," Yu An said sincerely. She paused then continued, "I don't know why you called yourself a sinner, but the fact that you hold whatever past sins so close to your heart tells me that you are definitely not heartless."
"And in fact," Yu An said with an almost wondering voice, "You probably have the most gentle heart of all." She thought of Drifter always silently waiting in the background - not because he didn't care, she was sure, but because he wanted no credit in his protection.
Drifter didn't reply, and Yu An didn't need him to. For someone who loved to make music, she found herself comfortable listening to the flames and her heartbeat in the silence.
Yu An calculated that it had been about twenty three days since they left the Yan Kingdom on the third day of the Grand Yan Emperor's funeral. Thus, when they finally returned to the Yan Kingdom, it was already the twenty-sixth day.
At the city gates of the Capital of the Yan Kingdom, Master Lang and Drifter remained outside as if indicating that this was where they stopped.
Qing nodded his appreciation to Master Lang and Drifter then turned to Yu An, "Tell your father I will meet him tonight at our garden." With that, Qing rode off.
Yu An rode her horse closer and whispered towards Master Lang, "I just have one last thing to say, Master Lang. My grandmother goes to the main temple in the Capital twice a month to pray, on the eighth and on the twenty-eighth. She has done this for every month since I've known her. I followed her once and it was strange, for on the twenty-eighth, she prays while looking very far away. As if the person she prays for does not belong in the Yan Kingdom."
Yu An moved her horse back, her eyes twinkling, and then she bowed low on her horse before Master Lang, "If fate decrees, we will meet again."
She gave a smile and quick nod towards Drifter, and then turned towards the city gates with Hu Zi. Master Lang and Drifter watched as their backs disappeared into the gates, into the crowd, no longer to be seen.
Master Lang inclined his head towards Drifter, "Now that you have met the princess you were supposed to be betrothed to, would you like to return to your real identity?"
Drifter's face remained impassive and Master Lang shook his head, "Your cold expressions don't fool me." Master Lang pointed to afar, "Your brother has arrived as representative for the final ceremony of the Grand Yan Emperor's funeral. Go see him. You can't run from your past forever. I will see you again on the final day."