Episode 2 picks up with the Emperor’s conversation with his head eunuch. He reveals that he must keep Ni Huang in the Imperial City through marriage, because she wields a lot of military power in her border territory. The Emperor fears that if she leaves the Imperial City, then he can no longer monitor her actions. Thus far, the eunuch seems to be a reasonable person, no side plotting going on here.
The Crown Prince and the Prince of Yu see the Ni Huang’s marriage as an opportunity to align themselves with her House… and the military prowess that comes with her. In preparation for the martial arts competition, they are each training nobles as potential suitors. The Prince of Yu oversees the training of two recruits, who are sparring with Meng Zhi, the leader of the Jin Guards(responsible for safety within the palace). Meng Zhi is highly ranked by Lang Ya for his martial arts (I believe 1 or 2).
Meng Zhi goes home with the Marquis Xie Yu in order to go over the safety plans for the upcoming martial arts competition. Upon entering the estate, his sharp instincts immediately pick up the swift movements of Fei Liu. Mei Chang Su is currently staying in the Marquis’ estate (recall that Jing Rui is the son of the Marquis). Meng Zhi fights with Fei Liu, and the two are about equal in terms of martial arts ability. Though Fei Liu is very young, and slightly lacking in mental ability, he is an extremely skilled fighter. Hearing the commotion, Mei Chang Su immediately arrives and puts a stop to Fei Liu’s aggression. After hearing the explanation, Xie Yu warns Mei Chang Su that Fei Liu’s free spiritedness may raise suspicion and cause trouble if he is not careful.
After returning to his living quarters, Mei Chang Su stresses that his identity as the leader of Jiangzuo Alliance needs to be kept quiet, else he will become embroiled in the struggle for the throne. In the previous episode, both the Crown Prince and the Prince of Yu had sought out Lang Ya Hall to ask how they can secure the Emperor throne for themselves. They both received the same answer: whoever can utilize the talents of the scholar of QiLin will inherit the throne. The scholar of Qilin is another one of Mei Chang Su’s Jiang Hu eponyms. Jing Rui’s younger brother, Xie Bi, overhears their conversation.
Meanwhile, the Prince of Jing, Xiao Jing Yan, has returned from his military pursuits. He comes across Ni Huang parting with Xia Dong, as the latter embarks on her investigation. He coldly greets Ni Huang, who is happy to see his return. After he rides away, Xia Dong angrily blames him for still believing in the innocence of the Chi Yan army. She adamantly states that the Chi Yan army’s betrayal of the Emperor had caused the death of her husband. Ni Huang has no response other than that she believes in Lin Shu.
Clearly, Jing Yan is not a favored prince, as he is kept waiting outside the palace for his father’s summoning. Last time he returned from an expedition, he went to his own estate before reporting to the palace, and his father had severely punished him.
The Emperor is preoccupied with a verbal spat between the Crown Prince and the Prince of Yu, who are both advocating for their chosen suitor for Ni Huang’s hand in marriage. Eventually, they are reminded of Jing Yan, and the Emperor belatedly summons the returning prince.
We briefly see Jing Yan’s mother, who is a lowly ranked concubine. She has a background in medicine, and is a demure, kind woman.
Back in the Marquis estate, Jing Rui finds out that his younger brother, Xie Bi, had informed the Prince of Yu of Mei Chang Su’s presence in their home. The Empress, adopted mother to the Prince of Yu, is personally waiting to meet Mei Chang Su. Jing Rui angrily tells his brother that Mei Chang Su is his friend and guest, and that the esteemed scholar was invited to the estate to recuperate from an illness – not to become involved in matters of the state. The Empress and Jing Rui’s mother, Princess Li Yang (sister of the Emperor, wife of Xie Yu), are left waiting.
Soon, the three friends, Jing Rui, Yu Jin, and Mei Chang Su, arrive at the palace to watch Day One of the martial arts competition. Both the Crown Prince and the Prince of Yu set their sights on Mei Chang Su. In a ridiculous show, they both try to appeal to Mei Chang Su, offering privileged access to the palace, rare books, and other riches.
Mei Chang Su is saved from the awkward situation when the Great Dowager Empress summons the boys. The grandmother has a mild form of dementia, and each of the sons of nobility are re-introduced to her, based on their lineage. When she sees Mei Chang Su, however, she seems to recognize him and beckons him with a startling term of endearment: Little Shu. The reference to Lin Shu goes unnoticed by all but Ni Huang and Mei Chang Su himself.
Everyone else, including the Crown Prince’s mother, the Imperial Consort Yue, all assume that she is mispronouncing the last character of Mei Chang Su’s name.
The Great Dowager Empress gathers both Ni Huang and Mei Chang Su, and urges them to marry soon. Startled, Princess Li Yang reminds her that Ni Huang has not been betrothed yet. Confused, the Great Dowager Empress replies that Ni Huang and Lin Shu have already been promised to each other. As she withdraws her hands, Mei Chang Su still holds on Ni Huang’s hand. She glances at him, half-confused, half-curious.
Outside, Ni Huang asks to speak to Mei Chang Su alone. She clarifies that she would never allow a stranger, especially a man, to hold her hand for that long out of respect for her propriety. Mei Chang Su formally apologizes and they take a stroll through the palace grounds together.
The scene with the Great Dowager Empress is one of the most touching scenes. Although she appears to be the oft-confused one, she is in actuality the one who sees the clearest through Mei Chang Su’s identity. It’s very clear that as a grandmother, she had a lot of affection for Lin Shu (I think his mother was a princess). It is also poignant, because although many people has seen through his identity as Su Zhe and pursued him as Mei Chang Su, no one in the palace has yet to acknowledge him as Lin Shu. And judging by his reaction, it has been a long while since anyone has been able to recognize Mei Chang Su as Lin Shu. I think one of the greatest regrets and sadness of Mei Chang Su’s life is that his physical appearance was completely destroyed in the Chi Yan Battle. His close resemblance to his father has been replaced with the look of a stranger, and his strength is now trapped in a frail and weak body.