Mu Yan and Ye Zhen Arc
On the night before the wedding, Zi Yan (Yang Rui) visits Mu Yan (Kevin Cheng) to serve her master one last time till he becomes a married man. Unbeknownst to Mu Yan, Zi Yan actually has ulterior motives as she pours him tea and leaves for the night.
Mu Yan wakes the next day and realizes that everyone has left. Alarmed, he hurriedly rides for Wei only to be greeted by the remnants of a massacre. Reminiscent of the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones, the union was a mere guise by Mu Yan’s father, the King of Chen, in order to conquer Wei.
In the span of hours, Ye Zhen (Lin Yuan) saw what should have been a joyous occasion transpire into a slaughter where her countrymen were killed left and right and she became the culprit who’s naivety single-handedly destroyed the country. Devastated, Ye Zhen waited for Mu Yan to appear before plunging to her death, and Mu Yan could only cry in despair at the sudden turn of events.
Filled with hatred, Song Ning attempts to assassinate Mu Yan. However, he is captured by Zi Yan who was secretly working for the 2nd Prince and the Empress. She hands Mu Yan over to Tian Zi, Ye Zhen’s former fiancee and the ruler of the nine kingdoms.
Indignant over the tragic deception, Tian Zi punishes Mu Yan and locks him away to be tortured for life while on the other hand, devising a way to resurrect Ye Zhen.
Song Ning and Shen An Arc
Wei has been colonized by the country of Chen and to placate the civilians, yet another marriage alliance was proposed. Once Song Ning (Jiang Xin) learned that Shen An (Yuan Hong) was going to be the representative from Chen, she quickly volunteered to take the princess’ place and offered her own hand in marriage.
Despite longing to be reunited with Shen An, Song Ning was afraid of how Shen An would react when he finds out that she was the one who defeated and saved him at the same time. She writes a letter baring her soul, admitting the truth and professing her love that has only grown stronger since the time that they have spent together. She gives Shen An a choice whether to accept the truth and wear the phoenix pendant or to return it to her should he reject her confession. Honestly, I knew he would never get the letter, but props to Song Ning for explicitly instructing the messenger to deliver the letter personally to Shen An.
Alas, Shen An receives the letter but never gets a chance to read it because Qi Qi, the mute person who is pretending to be Shen An’s savior stole the letter along with Song Ning’s phoenix pendant claiming it as her own.
Imagine Song Ning’s surprise when on the night of their wedding, her blissful anticipation was met with derision. Shen An barges into the room in an accusatory tone asking Song Ning what he did wrong to deserve the misfortune having to marry her. Did she not know that he already had a fiancee whom he loved dearly? Without going into specifics, Shen An made it very clear that they never began and that there won’t be a future. Song Ning is appalled to hear this and though a little confused, she takes it that Shen An has had a complete change of heart.
Months pass where Song Ning lives as a neglected wife and only later when she encounters Qi Qi and sees the pendant does she realize that her identity was stolen. Song Ning raises a sword to Qi Qi but in her defense, Shen An points the sword at Song Ning instead.
Fortunately, Song Ning’s older brother witnesses the altercation and puts a stop to it. While the older brother is just a side character that is quite inconsequential to the story, I really appreciate how protective he is of his sister even going so far as to say that he can give up everything – their family’s reputation, wealth and position as long as Song Ning says the word that she wants out from her sham of a marriage. If only Shen An could be half as caring as the older brother.
Yes, Shen An. You were literally blind before but now you are blind and deaf. I can’t blame him entirely because technically, he doesn’t know the truth but still.
Shen An’s father forces him to apologize to Song Ning in an effort to uphold political niceties. I’m not sure when the heroic general from yonder years turned into a prick but like a child throwing tantrums, Shen An grudgingly went to his wife’s quarters and words quickly escalated as his drunken self wanted to assert his grievances. Since she wanted him so badly, Shen An was going to give her a piece of himself, which naturally led to Song Ning threatening to kill herself if he doesn’t stop.
Despite almost giving up, the warrior in Song Ning refused to be unjustly defeated by Qi Qi and she sums up the courage to give the marriage one more try. She makes a deal with Shen An to start with a clean slate. If he doesn’t fall in love with her, only then will she back out.
As they travel as a group to Wei where Shen An will take his post as the new governing official, we are treated to by far the most short-lived happy times where Song Ning and Shen An ride on horseback along the coast but not without some nuances. Qi Qi and her maid Rong Min created drama throughout the journey. From being petty about which carriage to use to self-administering poisonous herbs just to accuse Song Ning. Thankfully, Song Ning was smart enough to uncover the ruse and Shen An finally realized for the first time, the conniving side of Qi Qi and Rong Min who was the real instigator.
The group finally reaches Wei and it is becoming clear that Song Ning and Shen An were made for each other. They have common ideals, interests that compliment each other and were beginning to establish a newfound sense of trust. Even if Shen An takes Qi Qi’s side as she cuts her own wrist to gain sympathy, the victory was never completely hers. In an effort to help Qi Qi, Rong Min masterminds a treacherous ploy to get rid of Song Ning once and for all.
On a night when Song Ning was practicing with her spear, Rong Min dressed as a masked assassin to lure Song Ning to Shen An’s quarters. At the same time, Shen An had just drank the wine given by Song Ning. He stumbles out of the room severely poisoned and Qi Qi conveniently arrives to help him while the guards surround Song Ning. To make matters worse, Qi Qi sucks the poison out from Shen An’s hand and has fallen into a coma.
See Hua Xu Yin Episode Recap Part 1.