Chapter 48 Rising Wind: Autumnal Meet
With the antidote being produced by the hospitals, the case of mass poisoning that had plagued the streets of Chang’an had finally came to a rest. Though the North Avenue was still sealed off, the attention of the citizens have been drawn to the upcoming Autumnal Meet. The Autumnal Meet is a yearly affair where ambassadors from the surrounding kingdoms came forth with offerings for the Emperor, attracting many traders from all over the world to set up bazaars and markets in the capital. It is suffice to say that it is an important event for all.
The Autumnal Meet was traditionally planned and executed by the Grand Herald1 , but this year, the Emperor had entrusted the responsibility to the Heir Apparent. Of course, this’d stirred the various undercurrents in the court, where officials have already started to choose their allegiance to the different princes.
The responsibility on the Heir weighed down upon Jiang Moyin as well. Jiang Moyin had yet to recover from his sickness, and was barred from leaving the house by Feng Luodi, only able to advise the Heir through letters and scriptures. As Situ had said to Jiang Moyin that day, the rest of the case of mass poisoning was to be left to Gan Qingjia who quickly got to work, vastly different from the playful person he usually was. With that out of the way, Situ was now free of responsibilities. His work lay mainly in the North where it was overseen by his subordinates, and all he had to do was to read the routine reports sent to him. It was not up to him to interfere in the matters of the court and its complicated undercurrents, nor did he like to interact with the various bootlicking officials who often came to look for him. Jiang Moyin was sick, Gan Qingjia was busy with the tasks entrusted to him, and even Xue Yiqi was occupied with his duties as the a captain of the Imperial Army. The only person left that he could look for was Feng Luodi, who could only be found in Jiang Moyin’s household.
Situ sat alone under the pine tree in his courtyard, slowly sipping a flask of wine. A few of his Covert Guard lay flat on a nearby roof, starry-eyed as they stared at their invincible General in awe.
“The General is so amazing! I can never get sick of looking at his commanding figure! He is always so handsome!” Zero stared at Situ, his hands supporting his head.
One slapped him on his head. “His lonely figure is as attractive and handsome as when he is commanding!”
Zero looked at him, confused. “How is the General lonely?” He pushed One to the side. “The word ‘lonely’ will never apply to our General. Not in a hundred years!”
One smiled. “You can’t be certain of that.”
Zero scrambled to his feet and tackled One. “Stop saying bad things about the General!” The few other of the Covert Guards in the area simultaneously poked their head out to check the commotion.
Situ shot a glance in their direction. Zero and One separated in the blink of an eye and stood three feet away from each other, their hands cupping their mouths. The rest of the Guards stifled their laughter as they slinked back to their positions. What’s wrong with the General today? No matter how much of a commotion we’d caused in the past, he would never take any notice of it. Did we hit a sore spot?
Situ calmly sipped his wine.
The days flew past, and it was the day of the Autumnal Meet. According to the rules, all officials ranked 4th and above in Chang’an would have to attend the feast set for the various ambassadors. Situ had brought Gan Qingjia into the palace early in the afternoon, and Xue Yiqi was busy with preparations for the arrival of the officials and ambassadors.
Meanwhile, Jiang Moyin slowly pushed himself out of his bed and put on his formal clothes.
“Grand Tutor.” Lu Bo looked at him worriedly. “You are not well enough to go for the feast yet. You’ll definitely fall ill again after the feast tonight!”
Jiang Moyin slowly and painfully got into his clothes with the help of an attendant. He smiled. “This feast is very important to the Heir, and I have to go no matter what.”
Lu Bo sighed. He understood the relationship between Jiang Moyin and the Heir. As much as the Heir relied on Jiang Moyin for advice, Jiang Moyin needed the Heir to realise his ideals as well. But the Grand Tutor’s condition…he really cannot afford to go for the feast tonight! An idea came to his mind.
“Miss Feng had reminded me a few days ago, that you were not to leave house for the next two weeks. If she were to found out about this, she would be extremely upset, Grand Tutor.”
Unfortunately, not even Feng Luodi could stop Jiang Moyin from leaving the house this time.
“Just don’t let her find out about it, then!” Jiang Moyin smiled, and shook his head. “I’d always hated it when she was grounded in the past, but now I’m glad she is today.”
Lu Bo shook his head, and quickly went to make the necessary arrangements. He’d assigned a few more attendants to head to the Meet with Jiang Moyin, with specific instructions for him not to drink any wine on the feast.
“Long live your Majesty!”
“Love live your Majesty!”
“Love live your Majesty!”
“Rise, my loyal subjects.” The Emperor gestured with his hands. “This year’s Autumnal Meet seems like a really festive occasion! Take a seat, all of you. Enjoy the first wines of this autumn!”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
All officials and ambassadors alike sat down, enjoying the performances in the middle of the hall. Gan Qingjia raised his goblet of wine and complained to situ.
“This isn’t half as good as the wine you have at your residence!”
Before Situ could reply, Xue Yiqi butted in. “I’d heard that all of the wines at his residence are delivered by the owner of Autumnal Ombre herself! Speaking of which, the wines of Autumnal Ombre are proving so popular that it has become a signature of Chang’an! Just look at the queues outside the shop everyday!”
“Ohhhhhhh!” Gan Qingjia dragged out his exclamation, a wide grin stretched across his handsome face. “So it’s wine from Miss Feng! No wonder someone is always drinking alone moodily these days.”
Situ looked at him flatly. “Is everything in place?”
A flash of light gleamed in Gan Qingjia’s eyes, and he raised his goblet to Situ again. The light in his eyes was gone as quickly as it came, and Gan Qingjia became his usual playful self again.
An official in the neighbouring table turned and looked at his friend, mockery apparent in his tone. “Argh, only officials of the 4th Rank and above are qualified to attend this feast, but it seems that someone without any official duties has managed to sneak his way into the feast as well!” The man did not raise his voice for others to hear, but it was loud enough to be heard by Situ and the rest. Xue Yiqi’s face darkened as he glared at the man, but was stopped by Gan Qingjia before he could retort. Gan Qingjia flashed his usual playful smile at the man, and raised his goblet in their direction.
Xue Yiqi was infuriated by the official’s taunt, but he was never one to go against his elder brothers’ wishes, not to mention the very presence of the Emperor in the hall made it inappropriate to make a retort of any sort. Gan Qingjia took a few sips of wine, and noticed Situ staring in a direction. He followed Situ’s gaze and saw Jiang Moyin, sitting at the same table with the Heir. Although he was chatting amiably with a few other high ranking officials, a reddish flush had tinged his pale cheeks.
“Moyin’s illness has been recurring ever since autumn had came, hasn’t it? Argh, the Heir is too reliant on him for everything.” Gan Qingjia sighed.
Situ poured himself another cup of wine and turned to him. “Our political views are different. It’s best that we prepare ourselves mentally for the arrival of that day.”
“Which day?” Xue Yiqi overheard the words and raised his head in confusion.
Gan Qingjia slung an arm over his shoulder and grinned. “The day where you take over as the Chief of the Imperial Army.”
Xue Yiqi laughed a little and shook his head. “I am but a mere captain in the unit, with neither the age nor the experience to undertake such a responsibility. His Majesty would never assign the position to me.”
Situ looked at him seriously. “Yes you will. Although you are indeed young, you have spent as much time in the army as the rest of the commanders, and you’re as experienced as they are.
Xue Yiqi shook his head, feeling a little tipsy. Did Elder Brother just say that to me? How much have I drunk to hallucinate about that!
Gan Qingjia patted him hard on his shoulder. “How does it feel to be praised by your elder brother?”
A foolish grin stretched across Xue Yiqi’s face. “It feels amazing.”
Before long, the time for merrymaking had passed, and it was time for the ambassadors to present their offerings to the Emperor.
The ambassador of the Huns was the first to come forward.
“Your Majesty, these precious herbs are sourced from our lands by our Wolf King. It’s worth much more than it’s weight in gold in our lands!”
The Emperor looked at the strangely shaped herbs and smiled. “Please convey my thanks to the Wolf King.”
The ambassadors of the various other kingdoms quickly stepped forward to present their offerings as well, quickly displaying an array of precious gemstones and jades that impressed most of the attending officials.
“These things are precious, but they could be found easily in our kingdom!” Xue Yiqi was displeased with the smug looks on the faces of the ambassadors, as they displayed their offerings.
Gan Qingjia quickly slapped his head lightly. “Now is not a good time to speak your mind, Yiqi.”
Meanwhile, the Emperor looked towards the Ailao ambassador, his face not displaying any hint of displeasure. “I am curious to see what the Ailao ambassador had brought for me.”
The ambassador was a clean shaven middle-aged man, clad in the traditional clothing of the Ailao people. His tone was as respectful as possible. “Your Majesty, isn’t there a saying of “leaving the best for the last” in the Xuan kingdom?” His tone was respectful, but his words quickly infuriated the rest of the ambassadors, displeasure written clearly on their faces.
“If that is the case, I would love to see the gift that you had brought for me.” The Emperor laughed and gestured towards the ambassador. The ambassador clapped his hands as an arrogant look crossed his face, and a few attendants quickly came in carrying a few big items, a red cloth draped over each of them..
“My king has heard of the bravery and heroic deeds of the First Emperor, and decided to pay tribute to him. He’d sourced for the purest gold in our mines, and ordered this carved from a huge piece of jade.” As he spoke, the few attendants quickly unveiled the offerings, and two statues emerged from the pile of red. One was cast in pure gold, and the other was carved entirely from a piece of huge jade. They were both made in the likeness of the statue in the North plaza. “This was made in the likeness of the statue that had stood in the North Plaza. My king wishes for your Majesty to be as powerful and brave as the First Emperor.”
The hall immediately fell silent. The Emperor looked emotionlessly at the ambassador. Gan Qingjia quickly leaned closer to Situ. “Hasn’t he heard the news of the two aides being arrested, and of the restrictions imposed on the North Avenue?
Situ threw his cup to the floor in anger. “He’d would have to be willing to bring up the matter himself.”
Gan Qingjia did not respond to his commend, and instead looked at the floor where the teacup had smashed to smithereens. What is Situ doing! Such actions are deemed disrespectful to the Emperor, and is a severe offence!”
Jiang Moyin smiled. “Seems like the Duke of Anping does not agree with your words, Ambassador.” The Emperor looked over as well as the rest of the hall stared open-mouthed, stunned by Situ’s audacity.
The ambassador recognised Situ. “I’ve long since heard of your name, General Situ. Do you disagree with my words? Are you saying that the Emperor cannot be as accomplished and as brave as the First Emperor?”
The Emperor’s face did not betray of his emotions. Jiang Moyin quickly held the Heir down, who was ready to defuse the tensed situation.
Situ looked around the hall, a smile on his lips. “Of course it is wrong. Although the First Emperor is indeed brave and heroic, he was born in a time where rife with hardships and conflicts. However, the Xuan dynasty has prospered into a kingdom rich and peaceful, under the rule of our Emperor; why should his Majesty need to wage a war ever again? Isn’t it so?”
The officials echoed simultaneously. “Long live your Majesty!”
The Emperor laughed out loud and waved his arm casually. “Please convey my thanks to your king, ambassador. But these two statues would have to be modified before I will put it in my palace.”
The ambassador wiped away the sweat that had formed on his brow. “Of course, your Majesty.”
“Now then, since we have gotten that out of the way,” the Emperor paused, “Then let’s continue with the merrymaking!”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“Phew…” Gan Qingjia quickly signalled for a handmaiden to return with a new cup, and poured himself a cup of wine. He turned to Situ. “I think I would prefer not to take up an official duty now. Moyin and You are more than enough to handle everything, I think.”
Situ raised his goblet, but didn’t speak.
- One of the Nine Chamberlains, in charge of Imperial celebrations and ceremonies. ↩