TOMAS Chapter 71

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Chapter 71 Abysmal: Of Sadness and Joy

Qi Jianqiu set her sights on Manchun Tang, and struck a deal with the owner – only chefs who could reproduce the intention behind her dishes are allowed to cook her culinary masterpieces in the restaurant. As such, a few chefs were sent to be mentored by Qi Jianqiu, such that they could reach her standard. One day, Qi Jianqiu invited Feng Luodi for a meal at Manchun Tang, to thank her for all her help during the gathering. Feng Luodi, who had been waiting for Fei at Autumnal Ombre, quickly arrived at the restaurant.

The moment she entered the dining room, she was taken aback by the huge variety of dishes on the table. Without a word, she sat down and picked up a pair of chopsticks, reaching straight for the nearest dish. Another pair of chopsticks blocked her way.

“Let me introduce my dishes before you unleash yourself on them – I enjoy it very much.”

“Alright alright, please hurry up.” Feng Luodi rolled her eyes at Qi Jianqiu, and quickly examined each dish as Qi Jianqiu introduced their names.

“These are Steamed Black-eyed Peas, Phoenix Claws in Bean Paste, Braised beef in scrambled eggs…” She finally finished the names of the dishes and took a deep breath. “Man, if only you knew how to cook as well. I’ll really like to share with you the makings of each dish!”

“No need for that.” Feng Luodi quickly refused her offer, her chopsticks already reaching for the nearest meatball. “I’ll take care of the eating; you can be in charge of the cooking.”

Qi Jianqiu pursed her lips. “I knew you wouldn’t like to try cooking at all. If your precious hands are damaged, I’d never forgive myself.”

“Mmhmm.” Feng Luodi mumbled between mouthfuls. “Thanks for all your dedication and hard work in the kitchen then!”

When the two were almost done with the food, Qi Jianqiu asked casually, “Didn’t you say that Fei was due to return to Chang’an with Abysmal? Why didn’t you bring it to show it to me! I was looking forward to hearing you play with the Guqin!”

“He isn’t back yet, but I sure hope he will soon.” Just as Feng Luodi’s words left her mouth, Scarlet’s voice sounded from outside the dining room.

“Young miss, Fei is back! I made the decision to bring the Guqin here immediately for you.”

Feng Luodi leapt up from her seat in joy. “Come on in, Scarlet!”

Scarlet entered the room, an object wrapped in cloth cradled in her arms. “Young miss, this is Abysmal.” She unwrapped the Guqin, and handed it carefully to Feng Luodi.

Feng Luodi placed the Guqin on the table, and observed it carefully. “A body made of Empress, and a paint of red. The natural markings that resemble the antlers of a deer in grey, and the carvings of plum blossoms. This is indeed Abysmal.”

Qi Jianqiu scooted closer to have a look as well. “It looks exquisite, but I can’t tell the difference from a normal zither.”

“The physical built and strings of the Guqin are some ways to identify them, but the biggest difference lies in its voice.” Feng Luodi lightly stroked the strings, and a gentle humming arose.

“It sounds good, even without a melody.” Qi Jianqiu was interested as well. “Why don’t we head to your house right now to test it out?”

“Sounds like a great plan.”

Feng Luodi hugged the Guqin close to her as the two of them headed down the stairs, Scarlet following closely behind them. They had barely taken a few steps out of the restaurant when they bumped into Situ, Gan Qingjia and Xue Yiqi. Qi Jianqiu’s smiling face immediately switched to an emotionless expression, her eyes burning with rage. Feng Luodi sighed inwardly. Seems like everyone comes to Manchun Tang, huh? Her eyes met with Situ’s, and was about to greet him happily when she saw his gaze rest on Abysmal in her arms. The scene outside the yamen that day flashed through her mind again, and she quickly recalled his fury during their dispute regarding the 10 Guqin. Her excitement quickly extinguished itself, and she handed the Guqin to Scarlet.

She took a moment, then looked at Situ naturally. “You’re done with your duties today?”

Situ nodded, but did not say a word.

On the other side, the staring contest between Qi Jianqiu and Gan Qingjia was still going on. One was the most beautiful woman in Chang’an, her delicate features filled with rage and her lips tightly pressed together; the other was a handsome and distinguished young man, his mouth curled upwards in a flirtatious smile. Xue Yiqi looked between the two of them. Why do I feel like the two of them are going to break out into a fight? Oh no! What am I supposed to do if that happens? I must…

Before his thoughts could roam wild, Qi Jianqiu huffed, and walked away without a word. Feng Luodi quickly took her leave, and chased after her friend. When the trio were out of earshot, she quickly turned to Qi Jianqiu.

“I never thought that you could stay quiet back there! I thought you were gonna scream at Gan Qingjia.”

Qi Jianqiu huffed, her hands around her hips. “Young Miss Qi is much more generous than that playboy back there, alright?”

Feng Luodi stifled her laughter, and clapped in agreement. “Let’s go!”

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“Play a song for me, Luodi!” Qi Jianqiu whined as they entered Feng Luodi’s courtyard. Feng Luodi smiled, and waved Scarlet off to rest.

“Alright alright, we’re in no hurry.” She set the Guqin down on the stone table, and washed her hands meticulously. Then, she placed both hands on the Guqin, and gently plucked at the strings, her voice accompanying the melody.

The cry not from my wounds

As the moon shines brightly on me

The night is long

Desperation in the clock tower

The scarlet window

Blew open by the gust of wind

It becomes a strand of pain

Gone with the wind

My heart’s a mess

Unable to see through your shadows

The leaves have fallen

Who will stop me?

Yet they are blown away

Never to return1

Feng Luodi’s own emotions are drawn into the song, and memories of Situ floated into her head. That night in the Guan Mountains, and the stars that I could touch with my hands. The way he looked on that horse.

The various Guqin that I know so well, yet I have never seen before.

The faces of my parents back in the 21st Century – I can remember them ailing day after day.

The feelings of loss experienced by my friends.

But. What about The First Lady? Mother? Her caring eyes. And Moyin’s look of concern every time he looks at me. And Jianqiu’s playfulness. And…him.

Qi Jianqiu was lost in Feng Luodi’s music as well, the feelings of sorrow washing over her. She felt the song speed up, and there was a sudden break in the song, followed immediately by a scream. She looked up to see Feng Luodi with one hand on the Guqin, the other raised slightly in front of her face. Qi Jianqiu leaned closer, and saw the bleeding cut on her left hand.

“What? Come in quickly, Luodi! We’ve got to get that wrapped up!” Qi Jianqiu dragged Feng Luodi into her room, where Jet quickly fetched medicine and water for them. “How are you able to hurt yourself, just from playing the zither? You’ve been very distracted ever since we’d came back from Manchun Tang. What’s wrong?”

“Sorry about that, Jianqiu. I just felt as if I’d blanked out for a moment back there.” Feng Luodi did not want to lie to Jianqiu, but there was no way she could tell her the truth. “Do you remember when I’d fainted without reason that time at Manchun Tang? I could feel it happening again.”

Qi Jianqiu quickly grabbed Feng Luodi’s hands, and called out to Jet. “Get the physician! No, get the Royal Physician.” She turned back to Feng Luodi worriedly. “Your problem is one that is recurring – how worrisome!”

Feng Luodi stopped Jet, and smiled at Qi Jianqiu. “The Royal Physician had taken a look at me already – not even he could find the cause. I was just to told to look out for it happening again.”

“Is that physician reliable?” Qi Jianqiu furrowed her brow. “My sister had told me that the best physician in the Medicinal Bureau is Physician Zhou. I’ll send for him right away!”

“Physician Zhou was the one who had evaluated me that time.” Feng Luodi reminded her. “Remember when I was held at Situ’s residence? I’d fainted once there, and Physician Zhou was the one who had evaluated me that time.”

“What can we do about it then? Is it life-threatening?” Qi Jianqiu was deeply worried.

“No, it wouldn’t.” Feng Luodi reassured her. “I just have to be more careful next time. Thankfully you were by my side when it happened this time.”

Qi Jianqiu thought for a moment, and proclaimed confidently. “Luodi, I’m going to follow you around everywhere in the future! And if it ever happens again, I’ll send you back right away. You won’t be in danger anymore then!” She grinned to herself.

Feng Luodi turned away from her friend for a moment, unable to deal with the guilt in her heart. She calmed herself down quickly, and hid her emotions. “That’s good to know. I’ll have to trouble you in the future then, I guess. I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to play anymore today.”

“Hey hey, it doesn’t matter! We can just sit around and talk for a bit instead!”

“Of course.” Feng Luodi nodded.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Feng Luodi saw Qi Jianqiu off with a heavy heart, she returned back to her courtyard and looked at Abysmal sitting quietly on the table. She took a deep breath, and sat down before the Guqin again. Her hands found the familiar position on the Guqin, and played a complete song despite her injured hand. Now, I have only seven Guqin left to find before I can return to my world.

However, little did she know that everything that had happened in the courtyard had been observed by Covert Guard Quattor, who was sent to watch over her safety.

Meanwhile, Qi Jianqiu headed straight for Manchun Tang the moment she left the Feng household, bursting into the dining room when Situ’s company and the just arrived Jiang Moyin were having their meal. She dragged Situ and Jiang Moyin into the corridor, and retold the afternoon’s events to them, reminding them repeatedly about Feng Luodi’s condition. After a series of warnings and promises of revenge if anything should befall Feng Luodi, she ended with a meek request.

“Please don’t tell Luodi what I’ve told you guys today. Don’t show that you know about it as well! Imagine how embarrassing it’ll be for her if she was to find out about us trying to take care of her!”

She sped off quickly back home, digging up long lost recipes for medicinal stews and soups.

As a result of Qi Jianqiu’s ‘care’, Feng Luodi was treated with extreme care whenever she was with the others, puzzling her to no end. Why am I treated like the member of an endangered species?


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  1. Original Song 菊花台 by Jay Chou. The MV contains excerpts from the Chinese Historical Wuxia movie, “Curse of the Golden Flower”. A highly recommended watch!