“Stupid Shan Ying Lang, I hope you trip and eat dog poop.” Yu Zhu muttered to herself as she angry stripped off the leaves of a willow branch. She sat alone on a tiny dock in the little lake of the Sighing Moon surrounded by gentle green hills. Lovers walked here arm in arm as they enjoyed the quiet choir of crickets serenading in their grassy enclaves.
Never had she been so embarrassed in her life. She couldn’t go back and face Hong Gege now that she’s kicked his best friend in the shins.
“Everyone’s looking for you.” A male voice called out behind her. Yu Zhu whipped around and saw Shan Ying Lang approaching her cautiously. He stood on the green grassy hill. Wind tugged at his robes and carelessly tied hair. He shook his head to clear his bangs from his eyes.
“How did you find me? Yu Zhu asked gruffly.
“I followed your scent.” Was the calm reply.
Yu Zhu stared at him incredulously, “Are you a dog?”
He grinned, his handsome face lighting up like a candle in the night. “Wolf, actually.” Yu Zhu raised an eyebrow but did not ask any more questions.
A few moments of awkward silence passed.
Ying Lang called out, “Have I offended you in some way? Why did you kick me?”
Yu Zhu rolled her eyes in disbelief; she called out “You don’t know who I am?”
“No, should I?” Was the casual reply.
“I’m the —“ Yu Zhu bit her lip, there still were people around the river banks, she didn’t want everyone in the city to know that she was the princess of the kingdom, disguised as a boy to see the festival. “I’m just someone who really doesn’t like you.” She finished and glared at him.
He shrugged; there was no trace of resentment on his face. “That’s okay, not a lot of people do. They say I don’t have manners”
“That’s putting it mildly.” Yu Zhu muttered under her breathe. After a few more moments, he came over and sat down next to her.
Yu Zhu considered shoving him into the pond. When he saw her eyeing him speculatively, he scooted away from her.
“I’m still learning about how to talk with people.” He admitted in the quiet night air. “But when I saw how fast Brother Hong went after you, I knew I made a mistake.”
“Why don’t you know how to talk to people?” Yu Zhu asked curiously.
“When I was little, my mother left my father and me. I didn’t like my father so I decided to live on my own in the woods. When I turned fourteen, I joined the army. I’m sixteen now, like Hong Yan Su.” He was so matter of fact about his lonely life that Yu Zhu felt a twinge of pity for him.
Ying Lang continued, “But I’ve never been to court so I don’t understand why people lie more than they speak the truth. When I asked Brother Hong why, he told me that was what manners are.”
Ying Lang shrugged as he tugged at the grass on the river bank, “I still don’t get it.” He turned to Yu Zhu and took her hand, “Little Brother, I saw tonight that Hong Yan Su cares about you. I only have two people in this world I actually like, Hong Yan Su and Xu Long Hui. In these last few days, I’ve pissed off both of them. So go back already, I don’t want him to be mad when we go back to the battlefields.”
Yu Zhu felt his large, calloused ones wrap around her hands. Yu Zhu was stunned at the warmth and gentleness she felt spread from his to hers. This was the first time any man had touch her. She blushed and looked down. Ying Lang didn’t seem to notice as he grinned his careless grin “Little brother, if you go back with me, I’ll promise I’ll teach you how to shoot a bow the next time I come back!”
Yu Zhu wanted to tell him that she already knew how to shoot but forgot what she wanted to saw when he looked into his bright eyes. Wind gently blew his long bangs into his angular face. His eyes were open and honest, it seemed that he could promise her the whole world with one glance.
“Young Master! Thank god your safe!” Hua Er flew down the stone steps to her mistress, she stopped when she saw Ying Lang holding onto Yu Zhu’s hand. “Let. Go. Of that hand now.” Hua Er drew a dagger and threw it at Ying Lang. Ying Lang laughed and caught the fast dagger with one hand.
Ying Lang smirked, “You act as if she’s a girl and I’m taking advantage of her.” Hua Er drew out another dagger, “My young master is not someone you could touch so casually” Hua Er snarled and advanced. Ying Lang eyes lite up as if he sensed a challenge, and gripped Yu Zhu’s hand tighter, “Make me.”
Yu Zhu’s eyes flashed angrily at Ying Lang’s tone, “You stupid boy. I’m not some prize you can hang onto!” And kicked the surprised Ying Lang a second time in the shins. He jumped backwards to avoid her kick and forgot that he was standing on the edge of the river. With a splash, he tumbled unceremoniously into the freezing cold water.
Yu Zhu had expected to fall in as well, since Ying Lang was holding onto her so tightly and she closed her eyes waiting to hit the icy pool.
But no such fall came. She opened her eyes and looked up into Hong Yan Su’s face. He smiled as he gripped her tightly in his arms, “Young Master, it is more than three hours past the time I promised your father you would return home. I have sent a message to him that you will be late, but we should get you home” Hong Yan Su gently let go of her sleeves as Hua Er ran to join them on the bank.
Hong Yan Su looked into the river, where Ying Lang was trudging out of, murder on his face. Hong Yan Su hid a smile as he called to his sopping friend “Stop looking a half drowned puppy. It’s time we went back as well.”