Chapter 49 Rising Wind: Ruse
Despite being rebuked during the feast, the Ailao ambassador quickly approached Situ as soon as the feast had ended.
“General Situ, I was wondering if we could have a drink together now that the feast has ended. I’ve always admired your bravery and accomplishments.”
“Isn’t the West guarded by the Defender-in-chief, General Xue? How would you know about my accomplishments then?” Situ and Gan Qingjia slowly made their way out of the hall, the ambassador tagging behind them.
“That just goes to show how famous and inspiring you are, General Situ! Your name even reaches faraway lands, such as ours.”
Situ inwardly rolled his eyes. He was never the kind to entertain such guests and engage them in small talk, this work was mostly left to the other Generals. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Gan Qingjia winking furiously at him. Elder Brother! Bait him into the trap now! The ambassador continued droning on and on about Situ’s deeds and bravery, but before Situ could reply, an attendant came running towards them.
“Is something the matter?” Situ quickly asked the attendant. He was not surprised to see the attendant reporting to him instead of one his Covert Guards; it was inappropriate for the Guards to appear in the palace.
“Your Grace, Miss Feng is currently at your residence. She is injured, but is unwilling to enter the household.”
“Injured? How serious is it?” Situ took off immediately.
The Ailao ambassador quickly held him back. “General Situ! What about our drink together?”
“Just drink with my brother here; he can represent me.” Situ grabbed Gan Qingjia, pushed him into the arms of the Ailao ambassador, and hastened back to his household with the attendant behind him.
“Uhm…this…” The ambassador was stunned by the sudden change of events. What just happened? Before he knew it, Gan Qingjia was guiding him through the streets of Chang’an.
“Let’s go! Chang’an is only fun in the night. I know a good place where we can have a drink!”
“But…what about General Situ?” The Ailao ambassador was confused.
“I’m the man to talk to if you want to know more about General Situ. Let’s go! I’ll let you have a night to remember!” Gan Qingjia slung an arm around the ambassador’s shoulder, half-dragging the man into the streets of Chang’an.
“Your Grace, there is no hurry! Miss Feng had only twisted her ankle!” The attendant called out to Situ as he spurred his horse. A few metres ahead of him, Situ was charging forward on his steed, a horse whip in his hand. Situ ignored the calls of the attendant, fully concentrated on getting back to his residence as quickly as possible.
He saw her as he approached the household, a figure in a white robe sitting atop the steps, her knees hugged close to her chest. The dim light of the streetlamps bathed her in a warm light, and for that moment, she was the only thing in Situ’s eyes. The attendants and stewards gathered around her had all disappeared from vision, and Feng Luodi was all he could see.
Situ dismounted, and waved the head steward away before he spoke. The attendants and stewards quickly returned to the household, and Situ walked over to Feng Luodi. His voice was soft and gentle.
“The night is cold, shall we go in?”
Feng Luodi raised her head and smiled. “There you are.”
It was as if the world had stopped. Nothing else mattered, except for her brilliant eyes. Finally, I am the only one in her eyes.
Situ reached out his hands and bent over. Feng Luodi quickly spoke up. “Please send me back.” She placed a hand on Situ’s arm, and used it as leverage to stand up. But before she could steady herself, her leg gave way and she fell into Situ’s embrace.
“I will, but first we have to treat your leg.” Situ moved to help Feng Luodi into the household, but Feng Luodi stood still.
“What’s wrong?” Situ looked at her.
“Father forbids me from entering your household.”
“Then I’ll carry you in.” Situ bent over and picked Feng Luodi up with ease.
“Hey!” Feng Luodi shouted in surprise and pummelled his back with her fists. “Put me down! Someone will see us!”
“It’s too dark for anyone to see us.” Situ brought her straight to his room, and placed her by his bed.
“Hey! Situ Muye!” Feng Luodi raised her other leg in an attempt to kick him, but that foot was quickly grabbed by Situ.
“Situ?!” Feng Luodi’s voice wavered, tinged with embarrassment and anxiety.
“Don’t move, or you will exacerbate the injury.” Situ looked at her emotionlessly.
Feng Luodi shuddered. That expression is really scary! She could only watch as Situ took off her shoes and socks, his hands fully in contact with her feet.
“Your Grace, the warm water is ready outside the door.” An attendant’s voice sounded from the other side of the door.
“I understand. You may leave.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Situ brought in the pail of hot water, and placed it by the bed. He dipped his hand into the basin and, confirming that the water was of an acceptable temperature, placed Feng Luodi’s twisted ankle into the basin, slowly pouring the water over her feet while massaging the swollen ankle gently. Feng Luodi’s face was flushed red, her eyes darting around the room, avoiding Situ’s figure in front of her as much as she could.
Warmth filled the room, and the silence wrapped itself around the both of them.
“How did you twist it?” Situ broke the silence.
Feng Luodi licked her lips, and blinked. “I twisted it when I was vaulting over the wall of my household.”
Situ slowly wiped her feet dry, and sat down by the bed beside her to reach for the medicine. He laughed lightly. “Were you grounded again?”
“Hmph! You seem awfully happy to see me grounded, eh?” Feng Luodi glared at her, momentarily forgetting her embarrassment.
“You seem like a obedient and quiet girl; so tell me: why are you always getting grounded?” Situ gently rubbed the ointment onto her ankle.
“I didn’t do anything wrong.” Feng Luodi raised her voice a little, but quickly calmed down again. “I guess I was too willful in my actions; I had no right to make them cater to my needs.”
Nobody will ever understand me.
“What rights are you talking about?” Situ tenderly put her socks and shoes back on, and held out his hand. “It’s getting late. Let me send you back.”
“What?” Feng Luodi blinked. Did I just jumped a wall, twisted an ankle, scrambled my way through the dark streets to his house, just for him to send me back after putting medication on my ankle?”
“Would you like to stay here instead? I’m not stopping you.” Situ smiled.
Feng Luodi scrambled off the bed immediately. “I will go back now. Sorry for the trouble tonight.” Se had barely finished her sentence when her leg gave way again, but Situ quickly steadied her.
“We better hurry…I’m definitely going to be grounded for the next few days because of this.” Feng Luodi quickly hurried out of the door as soon as she regained her balance. She turned to Situ and shot him a warning glare. “Do not carry me this time!”
As Situ’s horse neared the back door of the Feng household, Feng Luodi made out the silhouettes of two handmaidens looking around urgently. Situ lifted Feng Luodi off the horse and gently patted her robe.
“Let me know if you plan to sneak out next time; I’ll give you a hand. So please, don’t jump over the wall again, okay?” Situ teased.
“Okay.” Feng Luodi quickly turned and fled into the household, as Scarlet and Jet came up to her.
“Young miss, are you alright? Is your leg injured?” Jet and Scarlet helped Feng Luodi into her room.
“I’m fine, it’s just a little sprain. I’m a little tired today, and I don’t think I’ll be able to get up early tomorrow morning. Scarlet, can you help me send my greetings to Mother tomorrow morning?”
“Of course, young miss. I shall leave Jet to wait on you for the night.”
“Alright, just go on ahead. Don’t tell anyone that I left the household last night!” Feng Luodi leaned on the headboard and waved at Scarlet.
“Young miss, you seem very tired today. Please rest early.” Jet carefully tucked Feng Luodi into bed.
“Mmhmmm.” Feng Luodi smiled. “You can leave the room too.”
“Yes, young miss.”
When the room was finally empty, Feng Luodi’s façade crumpled and she slumped onto the bed, burying her head into the cushions. “What was I even doing! Didn’t I leave the house to search for information on the Guqin? I have to get back to my world!”
She sat up again, her eyes widening as she recalled the events of the night. “What was Situ doing just now? Doesn’t he know that he is not supposed to touch the feet of a girl?!”
She buried her face into her hands. But why didn’t I stop him? Why didn’t I fight back more? Shouldn’t I be feeling more upset about this?
Feng Luodi tossed and turned in the bed, her thoughts racing wildly.
Feng Luodi crawled out of bed the next morning, her neck sore and aching. She looked around the room, and was surprised to find herself alone. Neither Jet nor Scarlet was waiting on her.
“Did I wake up early?” Feng Luodi looked out of the window, and saw the sun shining brightly in the sky. “Doesn’t seem like it. Where are the two of them?”
Jet and Scarlet’s voices sounded from the yard, as if they were animatedly discussing about something. The door burst open and the two handmaidens came in. “Good morning, young miss!” Scarlet passed a warm towel to Feng Luodi.
“What were the two of you discussing about? You sound really excited!”
“Young miss, something big had happened last night! The entire Chang’an was shaken!” Scarlet handed Feng Luodi her clothes.
Last night? The image of Situ massaging her feet flashed through her mind and Feng Luodi’s face flushed red. She looked away and kept her voice steady. “What happened last night?”
Scarlet helped Feng Luodi into her chair in front of the mirror, and was about to continue when Jet butted in. “We heard that an ambassador from one of the kingdoms attending the Autumnal Meet had accidentally destroyed the statue at the North Plaza in a drunken frenzy last night. I can’t comprehend how he’d managed to destroy such a huge statue, but the fact is that the Imperial Army now has the area cordoned off. The entire city is enraged.”
“Was it the ambassador of Ailao?” Feng Luodi interjected.
“Yes yes! Now I remember!” Jet placed the dishes for breakfast onto her table. “It was done by that Ailao ambassador! The citizens of Chang’an are calling for the Emperor to punish him severely for his actions.”
“But wasn’t the North Avenue sealed off? How was the ambassador able to get to the North Plaza?” Scarlet was perplexed.
Jet nudged her. “I’m sure he can overcome the simple barricades if he is equipped to destroy the statue.”
“Hmmm…that makes sense.” Scarlet nodded.
Feng Luodi looked bemusedly at their exchange. “So, what’s the punishment for the ambassador? The destruction of the statue is not to be taken lightly, and we need to give a harsh punishment to appease the public’s outrage, and to set an example out of him.
The two handmaidens exchanged a look and shook their heads. “We don’t know about that, young miss. That was all we’ve heard on the streets, and it seems that no one knows exactly what the punishment is either.”
“Okay.” Feng Luodi nodded her head. At least the statue is destroyed, and the people won’t be affected by the toxin anymore. Well, it seems like Moyin hadn’t suffered for nothing.
“Right, I’d almost forgot!” Scarlet added. “Young miss, aren’t you pretty close to Grand Tutor Jiang and General Situ? I’m sure they’ll know the whole story!”
“That’s a good idea!” Jet nodded. “You’re no longer grounded from today onwards, and you can visit Master Jiang!”
Feng Luodi nodded to herself as she slowly drank the bowl of porridge. Indeed, I should visit Jiang Moyin. I’d forgotten to ask Situ if Jiang Moyin was present at the feast last night; I wonder if he’d stayed at home like I’d suggested.
She put her bowl down. “You should go and have your breakfast too. Get Fei, and tell him to prepare to leave for the Grand Tutor’s residence in a bit.”
“Alright!” Jet cheered as she brightened at the prospect of breakfast.
Scarlet pouted. “Young miss, are you only bringing Fei out again?”
Feng Luodi looked at her. “Something wrong with that? Is someone getting bored of staying in the household?”
“It’s not that…” Scarlet was hesitant. “It always used to be Jet or me who’d followed you whenever you left the house. But we haven’t accompanied you since Fei came.”
Feng Luodi raised an eyebrow, a smile on her face. “Then how about you come with me today, then. Get Fei to head over to Autumnal Ombre; I’m afraid the new employees from the Qi household may need some assistance handling the situation.”
“Alright!” Now it was Scarlet’s turn to cheer as she dashed out of the room to make the necessary preparations.
Feng Luodi smiled, and shook her head. Silence filled the air, and the corners of her mouth dropped back into a flat line. Ahhhhhhh, my Guqin, where art thou!