Chapter 63 Abysmal: Action!
Whirlwind was gentle and obedient as promised, following Feng Luodi’s every command.
Situ followed behind bemusedly. I haven’t even taught her how to ride properly! He saw the look of joy on Feng Luodi’s face and shrugged away his other thoughts. Unfortunately, Feng Luodi was too careless in her adrenaline fueled ride and strained her back from a sudden jolt of the horse. Pouting, she could only let Situ help her off the horse, and that signified the end of the riding ‘lesson’. When Jiang Moyin finally visited Feng Luodi to give her the promised riding lesson, he saw a gloomy Feng Luodi hugging a bamboo slat, sighing to herself.
“Bored out of your wits? Grab your saddle and let’s go riding.” Jiang Moyin smiled gently, but did not enter the tent.
Feng Luodi looked up at him, and pouted. “Elder brother, I’ve strained my back. I don’t think I can learn riding with you anymore.”
“Is it serious?” Jiang Moyin immediately came to her side, and picked up the scent of herbal medicine.
Feng Luodi shook her head. “It isn’t serious, but I doubt it will recover before the end of the Hunt.”
“Don’t worry about that. The Hunt is an annual event, and you’ll have many more chances in the future!”
“Alright, alright.” Feng Luodi laughed. “Sorry for troubling you to come here for that even when you’re so busy.” Will I still be here when the Autumnal Hunt comes around again next year?
“Well, if only you’d brought your zither here today. Your music always helps me sort out my thoughts.” Jiang Moyin sat down.
“Hey! Can’t you see that I’m injured? I can’t play like this!” Feng Luodi set the bamboo slats down on the table in front of her. “It must be tiring to always be the one behind the Heir’s plans and actions. I’m glad that you can take this time to rest here for a while.”
Jiang Moyin’s smile widened into a warm grin. “Did something happen that night you were at my tent? Situ wouldn’t have involved you in such a dangerous situation otherwise.”
“Nothing much.” Feng Luodi shrugged. “We just happened to be together before that, and he knows that I’m a very tight-lipped person.” She saw Jiang Moyin deep in thought and added jokingly. “What’s with that expression, elder brother? Don’t you trust me? I had no intention of learning about the Heir’s plot.”
“Of course I do.” Jiang Moyin quelled his suspicions. “But Luodi, it’s best that you do not get yourself involved into such things, and just focus on your music in the future. Many things that appear calm and peaceful could be harbouring a storm under the surface.”
“Of course, elder brother. I am of that opinion myself as well.” She nodded towards the bamboo slats on the table. “See? I’m looking at my music scores.”
Jiang Moyin nodded.
“Elder brother, I can’t possibly hunt in this state now. Would you do it on my behalf?” She winked cheekily. “Let the animals of the Guan Mountains shiver in your might!”
“Alright, alright. I’ll save you the tasty bits.” Jiang Moyin stood up confidently and headed out of the door.
“Elder brother!” Feng Luodi called out just before he left the tent.
Jiang Moyin turned around, a smile on his face. “Why? Are you particularly hungry for a specific cut of meat?”
Feng Luodi hesitated, and nodded, grinning. “I want a pheasant!”
“You got it!”
Feng Luodi stayed unmoving for a while after Jiang Moyin left, and sighed. Am I supposed to tell him how I feel about the Heir? That would mean questioning him and his morals as well. She picked up the slats again, trying to clear her head of the thoughts when she heard a cheering from outside, prompting her to check it out.
Many who had went out for the hunt gathered in the clearing before the tent, bringing with them plentiful game. Young governmental officials such as Situ were milling about with the younger nobles; there were even women dressed in hunting clothes were in the crowd. The cause of the commotion was a young, pretty woman with a huge grin on her face. A beautiful deer lay on the ground in front of her, along with a few hares by her feet. It was an amazing feat for a girl like her, especially since many of the other young men in the crowd have returned empty handed.
“No wonder the Emperor dotes on her so much! Princess Shangrong can not only play good music, but is also adept at hunting! How talented!”
The Princess smiled confidently, but when she saw a figure approaching in the distance, she quickly blushed and looked away shyly. Situ wore a handsome hunting suit, his expressionless face giving him a fearsome aura. A few attendants followed behind him, a leopard carried between them. The leopard was still alive, snarling and struggling against the bonds that held its legs together. In contrast, Situ’s stoic demeanour showed off his manly bravado.
The crowd gushed towards him, flooding him with praises and commendations. Princess Shangrong slowly shuffled towards him, but the confidence in her was gone – she stood near him, too timid and shy to even congratulate him.
Feng Luodi watched from a distance, and turned to walk in another direction, mumbling under her breath. “I want to hunt! Hunt…hunt…hunt…arghhhhh!” She wandered aimlessly amongst the rows of tents, kicking the pebbles lining the paths.
“I don’t want to go back now…but where else can I head?” Feng Luodi sighed. The exciting assassination has yet to happen, I didn’t get to learn to ride, and neither did I get to hunt. This was such a waste of time! She milled about aimlessly for a while longer, before finally turning to head back towards her tentage.
Before she could enter her tent, she was stopped by the guard. “Miss Feng, his Grace has invited you to his tentage.”
“His Grace?” Feng Luodi raised her head, puzzled for a moment before realising that the man was referring to Situ. I like it more when they call him ‘General’; it suits him so much more than a ordinary title any noble can use.
“Of course, I’ll go there straight away.”
She lifted the flap of Situ’s tentage to see Situ sitting in the middle of the tent, slowly roasting a pheasant on the spit. Feng Luodi’s mouth gaped open. “Are you actually barbecuing in the middle of a tent?”
“That’s how we do our little banquets in the army.” Situ expertly flipped the pheasant, and quickly painted a coat of spices onto it. He reached for another piece of meat and set it on the spice as well.
“What’s that, then?” Feng Luodi leaned closer.
“That’s what they eat in the North, isn’t it! Roasted whole goat. It must be a sight to behold!” Feng Luodi propped her head in her hands as she sat down across from Situ.
“Do you want to try that?” Situ raised an eyebrow. “I can get them to send a whole goat here right now.”
“No no no. That’s not what I meant.” Feng Luodi quickly shook her hand. “I can’t finish that all by myself – I’m not a pig!”
She watched on in admiration for a while before she poked fun at him. “Shouldn’t you be out there soaking in all the praise? Yet you’re cooped up in your tent, barbecuing by yourself?”
“I’m…hungry.” Situ’s face was calm.
Slowly, Feng Luodi’s gaze shifted from the roasting pheasant to Situ, across the spitfire. What an admirable man he is! He roams the battlefields not in search of honour or glory, he listens and enjoys music not for the beautiful artistes, he rides the plains of the North without a care in the world, and he can hide from the crowd to barbecue in his tent just because he wants to. He feels so…free He does what he wants to, unrestricted by what his position demands of him, and he enjoys doing it.
The face she could never seem to get tired of, the tightly-pressed lips, and the look of concentration on his face…Feng Luodi’s thoughts slowly drifted away from her, and she leaned closer to him, the spitfire between them.
A hand reached and planted itself against her forehead. “If you lean any closer, your hair is going to get charred.”
Feng Luodi realised with a start her proximity to the fire, and quickly skirted backwards, avoiding the hand. “I was too eager to eat the pheasant.” She smiled awkwardly.
Situ retracted his hand. “They’ll be done soon. You can have some of the snacks first.”
Feng Luodi mentally slapped herself as she sat there awkwardly. Argh! Why am I so obsessed with Situ? He must have known that I was staring at him, or he wouldn’t have reminded me! She almost thought of escaping the tent there and then. Luckily, to ease her awkwardness, two attendants entered the tent. One hugged a small deer in his arms, while the other carried a cage where two hares were eagerly munching on carrots.
“What a cute deer!” Feng Luodi’s attention was drawn to them immediately. Situ gestured, and the attendant quickly handed the deer over to her. Feng Luodi held the docile deer in her arms, and the other attendant placed the cage with the hares by her stool.
“Are these for me?”
The attendants nodded. “His Grace has specifically requested for them today morning.” They turned and left the tent, leaving Situ and Feng Luodi alone together again.
Feng Luodi grinned, and turned to Situ, gratitude apparent in her eyes. “Thanks so much! The deer is beautiful and so are the rabbits.”
Situ paused for a moment, and said with a hint of amusement in his eyes. “They’re not for you.”
“Huh?” The smile on Feng Luodi’s face froze.
“Did you forget your promise to someone to bring some small animals back for her?” Situ almost rolled his eyes.
“Oh right! Jianqiu!” Feng Luodi exclaimed, smacking herself on the forehead with a free hand. “I’d completely forgotten about that! Thank the heavens you remembered for me.”
Situ removed the hunk of chevon and the pheasant from the spit and placed them on a plate, cutting them into bite-size chunks. He passed the plate over the Feng Luodi. “If you like them, we can catch more in the afternoon.”
Feng Luodi placed the plate aside. “No need for that. I’m not really good with raising small animals anyway. It’s better to just let them stay in the wild.” She set the deer down, and quickly got up to wash her hands. Seeing Situ still sitting by the spit, she wet a handkerchief and handed it to Situ.
“You must be tired from all that cooking. Here, wipe your hands.” Her tone was gentle.
Situ accepted it with a raised brow, and looked at Feng Luodi who had started to munch on the meat in her plate. “Feeling better now?”
Feng Luodi raised her head to look at him, and quickly turned away. “I don’t recall ever being upset?”
Situ ignored her challenge, and turned back to his plate of meat again. The rest of their lunch was spent in silence, with Feng Luodi anticipating the second part of the Hunt that was to take place in the afternoon.
“Father, why don’t we have a competition among us brothers to see who can bring back biggest game?” The 7th Prince suggested respectfully to the Emperor.
The Emperor was old, and had not participated in the strenuous hunt. The 7th Prince’s suggestion was just what he desired: to sit comfortably while his sons provided him with their trophies.
“That’s a good suggestion, Du’er1. I will add a prize for the winner of the competition: he will get to be in charge of the bonfire tomorrow night.”
“Thank you, Father.” The princes knelt in front of him.
Situ and Feng Luodi heard of the 7th Prince’s proposal the moment they’d left the tent, and quickly exchanged a look.
“There we go.”
Feng Luodi searched for a face amongst the crowd, and saw the Heir smiling warmly and genially as he always has. She shuddered, and shrank back behind Situ.
- Name of the 7th Prince. ↩