Chapter 31 Wind Crane: Intention
The two of them returned to Situ’s dining room and closed the door, Fei waiting for them in the corridor. As soon as they sat down, Feng Luodi quickly asked again. “Are you saying that the 7th Prince is an intelligent man, and that his vices are just a ruse?”
Situ replied calmly, “Yes, and no.”
“What do you mean?”
Situ poured himself a cup of wine. “The 7th Prince may not be as dumb or as sinful as you think, but it’s just like I said before. Remember that he is one of the few princes that were bestowed the title of ‘Commandery Prince’. He cannot be good for nothing.”
Feng Luodi opened her mouth, about to pursue the topic, when Situ stopped her. “It’s best if you do not know too much about this. It’s never a good thing to interact too much with the royalty and nobility.”
Feng Luodi thought about it for a second, and nodded in agreement. Indeed, my only responsibility is to find the 10 Guqin. Sooner or later, I’ll be returning to my world, and it’s probably for the best that I do not meddle too much with the affairs of this world.
Standing up, Feng Luodi curtsied to Situ. “Anyway, you have my deepest gratitude for today, Master Situ. I’ll pay for your lunch on my way out. Please, enjoy your meal.”
She turned to leave, but had taken a few steps towards the door when a bench slid across the floor, stopping in front of her and blocking her path. She looked up at Situ who’d kicked the chair.
“What’s with this? Is my thanks not enough?”
Situ pointed at her original seat by the table. “I don’t think that’s sincere enough. Why don’t you sit down and have a meal with me? I’ll be alone otherwise.”
Feng Luodi pursed her lips, and took her place again by the table. Looking at the array of dishes that filled up the entire table, she asked, “Can the two of us finish all these?”
“Why?” Situ raised an eyebrow. “Now is not the time to be miserly, Miss Feng.”
What? Who told me that General Situ is stern and serious all the time? Look, he even made a jibe at me!
Feng Luodi glared at him. “I just feel that it’s a sin to waste food.”
“Then you should do your best to eat more.” Situ slid a few more dishes closer to her.
Feng Luodi picked up a flask of wine. “I prefer this more; it’s delicious!” To be honest, it was because the alcohol content of the wine was very low. “So it’s all on you to finish the dishes!” She added quickly.
The corners of Situ’s lips twisted upwards into a smile.
The two of them chatted as they ate. Although Situ’s face remained expressionless most of the time, with his angular face making him seem more sombre than he was, he made for a surprisingly good conversationalist. They talked about a broad range of topics, and when it veered into the subject of sights and sceneries, Situ’s eyes lit up, and his stories flowed endlessly. From the “Painting of 10 Miles” on the outskirts of Chang’an with its beautiful lakes and mesmerising greenery, to the silent grandeur of the deserts of the North, where different races mixed together and formed amazing cultural exchanges – Situ knew all about them. Very curious about these places that she’d only seen on books, and would probably never visit in her life, Feng Luodi teased story after story out of the stoic Situ.
After a long meal, the two of them left the room and headed downstairs, Feng Luodi rubbing her bloated stomach with a regretful expression. Taking out her silver to pay for the meal at the counter, but the manager smiled at her.
“Miss, Master Situ had already paid for the meal.”
Feng Luodi looked at Situ, surprised. “When did you come down to pay for the meal? Or was it already paid in advance, even before I’d arrived?”
“You can guess.” Situ raised an eyebrow at her, turning to walk out of Manchun Tang without waiting for an answer.
Feng Luodi quickly waved for Fei to follow, and walked out onto the streets as well. Clasping her hands behind her back, Feng Luodi said indignantly, “It’ll be my treat next time then. I’ll be in your debt.”
“Fine by me.” Situ shot her a sideward glance.
The next day, Feng Luodi received an invitation from Linglong to meet in Moonglade, wanting to lend her Wind Crane as promised. She was given a silken handkerchief as a token, a proof of their arranged meeting. Feng Luodi examined the handkerchief, confirming that the embroidery was stitched by Linglong herself. However, the picture was that of a sturdy pine tree, a peculiar choice for the handkerchief of a lady.
Feng Luodi could barely keep her excitement in, and quickly left with Scarlet in tow. In the front yard of the household, they ran into Fu Bo, who was waiting for them.
“The First Lady wants you to use her carriage from now on, young miss. She’s afraid that you’ll be tired from your daily excursions, and had me prepare her carriage, fitting it with a new driver for you.”
Feng Luodi rejected the offer without thinking twice. “The place I’m heading to is very near, just a mere 15 minutes on foot. No need for the carriage, Fu Bo.”
Fu Bo smiled a little. “Young miss, have you not heard the rumours?”
“What rumours?” Feng Luodi was perplexed. Ever since she came to this world, everything she did was related to the zither, spending her days playing music or finding news about the 10 Guqin. She never paid any attention to the rumours floating around the streets. Behind her, Scarlet shook her head furiously at Fu Bo, who continued calmly.
“I see that you’re unaware of the rumours, young miss. That is alright, for they are inconsequential anyway.” Fu Bo bowed, and pointed at the carriage. “However, you are the daughter of a high ranking official of the kingdom, and it’s best if you ride in the carriage when you go out. It is only befitting of your position, young miss.”
Feng Luodi sighed. “Is this really what Mother wants?”
Fu Bo laughed, understanding her underlying question. “The Master has been at home more often these few days, and he heard that you travelled everywhere on foot.”
Feng Luodi nodded in resignation, and headed to the carriage, parked by the side of the road. “I understand. Thank you for helping to arrange this, Fu Bo.”
As she neared the carriage, she was surprised to see Fei sitting in the driver’s seat.
“There you are! I was just wondering why I didn’t see you in the morning!” Scarlet exclaimed.
“Please, young miss.” Fei hopped off from his perch on the carriage, and quickly set a small stool by the roadside for the two passengers to board. He carefully helped Feng Luodi and Scarlet onto the carriage, before nimbly returning to his seat.
“Fei, when did you learn to drive a carriage?” Scarlet lifted the veil surrounding the carriage, and asked curiously.
“I’d learnt the skill from Fan a few days back. He had been the Chamberlain’s driver for a good couple of years now.”
“Oh, I see.” Scarlet nodded, and turned to look at Feng Luodi, who was resting quietly in the corner. She lowered her voice. “Does the Master intend for the young miss to take the carriage every time she leaves the household from now on? This is making us feel so awkward and restricted!”
Fei laughed. “Fan was supposed to drive young miss today, but I’d managed to convince Fu Bo that I’ll do it instead. If not for that, I guarantee that you guys will be feeling much more restricted.”
“Phew! Well done, Fei!” Scarlet released the veil, letting it drop back into place. She turned to look at Feng Luodi, who still had her eyes closed, and sighed. She leaned back into her seat and was about to take a nap as well when Feng Luodi spoke up.
“Scarlet, what was Fu Bo talking about just now? I leave the household often enough, yet I haven’t heard any such gossip while I was out in town. Did these rumours originate from the court, or from the streets?” Her voice was flat, and her face expressionless.
Scarlet shrunk a little into her seat, a little unsure of what Feng Luodi’s tone implied. It was a while before she replied.
“Th-They have originated from both, young miss. We have heard such rumours when we are out, shopping for groceries. Most of the rumours are about how you have been abandoned by the 7th Prince, but we know that it’s not true!” Scarlet paused. “I’m not exactly sure what the other officials have been saying in court, but Fu Bo had mentioned that the Chamberlain had been breaking things in his study, obviously furious at something. We were forbidden to ask for more information, but I’m afraid that the rumours in court have been more offensive than those we’ve heard.”
“Okay.” Feng Luodi remained expressionless, and did not say anymore. Scarlet was afraid of Feng Luodi’s silence, and kept mum for the rest of the journey.
The carriage quickly stopped having reached Moonglade, and Scarlet lifted the veil to check. “Young miss, we’ve arrived.”
Feng Luodi alighted wordlessly, and was surprised to find Moonglade extremely busy, with the area in front of the gate where carriages are usually parked already packed. Feng Luodi walked briskly to the front door, and handed the silk handkerchief to the attendant. Upon seeing Linglong’s token, they were quickly invited in by the attendant.
“My apologies for not inviting you in sooner; I wasn’t aware that you were an honoured guest of Miss Linglong.”
A stage was set on the first floor of Moonglade, where a few artists were playing their zithers. Tables filled the entire hall, and there were no empty seats to be found. The second floor had private rooms along both sides of the corridor, where specific zither artistes can be summoned into the room for a private performance, and prices varied depending on the time of the day and the artists requested. The third floor was of the highest class, appropriately named the ‘Abode of Elegance’. A corridor was built on the outer side of the establishment, offering splendid views of the city to the guests. Only the most important of guests are allowed up here – guests chosen specifically by Linglong. It was a place where one’s position or wealth did not matter; the only reason a guest could come up here was with Linglong’s approval. From this alone, one could see how much power Linglong wielded in Moonglade, despite being a mere zither artiste.
Feng Luodi was led straight to the top floor, while Scarlet and Fei were left on the first. Naturally, Feng Luodi’s reception was seen by the crowd, and that added more fuel to the gossip that was already about her. Of course, her quarrel with the 7th Prince in Moonglade was brought up again, and speculations quickly ensued. This enraged Scarlet, who quickly wanted to join the fray and defend her young missus.
However, she was quickly stopped by Fei.
“What are you doing! Can’t you hear that they are tarnishing the name of our young missus?” Scarlet hissed angrily.
“Of course I can,” Fei quickly explained, “But the worst thing we can do now is to create more trouble for her. Have you forgotten Fu Bo’s instructions? We are to avoid letting the young missus appear in front of crowds, as much as possible.”
“But it isn’t even her fault! We can’t take this lying down, even if the other person is a prince!” Scarlet was fuming.
“It isn’t that simple, Scarlet. Why don’t you look at it this way: young missus is extremely smart, and probably has already come up with a solution. Moreover, all we are here to do today is to collect the Guqin. Let’s not cause any unnecessary trouble.”
Scarlet looked away, upset with his conclusion but quietly knowing that he was right. Out of the corner of her eye, a familiar figure flashed past.
Feng Luodi was led to a hall by the attendant, fittingly named ‘Blossom Love’. The hall was separated into a few rooms, with elegant furnishings worthy of the room’s name. She lifted the veil on the door and entered alone.
The first thing that came into her view was Linglong, dressed in a flowing gown of a red silken sash, her hair braided upwards in a high bun, exposing her creamy neck. She was playing a song on the zither, her fingers dancing fluidly across the strings, weaving a delightful musical masterpiece into the air. That zither, was Wind Crane.
Linglong only looked up from her zither when her song ended, and was surprised to see Feng Luodi. She quickly stood up and smiled. “My apologies, Miss Feng, I was too engrossed in my song, and hadn’t noticed your arrival.”
Feng Luodi walked towards her from where she was standing, and curtsied. “It’s no problem at all, Miss Linglong. Your song was so masterfully played that it had enraptured the both of us.” She paused, and looked at the Guqin.
“This must be Wind Crane, am I right? Black as the night, with intricate broken viper-like carvings along the body. The sound leaves a lingering echo like a thunderclap in spring, refreshing and enchanting.”
“Miss Feng, you are indeed as well versed in the zithers as I assumed. No wonder you were so interested in Wind Crane.” Linglong generously lifted Wind Crane from the pedestal, and handed it to Feng Luodi. “My apologies for making you come all the way here, Miss Feng. I am a zither artiste, and it would be a sensitive issue if I left Moonglade.”
Feng Luodi took the Guqin from Linglong, trying to keep her hands from shaking. “No worries, Miss Linglong. I am very grateful for your generosity in lending the Guqin to me at all. There is no reason for you to deliver Wind Crane to me.”
Linglong leaned against the table, and smiled enchantingly. “To be honest, there was another reason behind my request for you to come here, Miss Feng. I have something to tell you, something I feel you have the right to know.”
“What is it?” Feng Luodi asked absentmindedly, her eyes glued to Wind Crane.
“This is about you and the 7th Prince. And Miss Qi Jianqiu.”