Chapter 30 Wind Crane: Meeting
Feng Luodi woke up early the next morning, and sat in the courtyard with her zither on her lap, plucking at the strings casually. While the floor was littered with flowers that have long since wilted, it will soon be a rhapsody of colours when the late-bloomers flourish.
“Young miss, will you have your breakfast in our courtyard, or dine with the Master and the First Lady in the anteroom?” Scarlet entered the courtyard and saw Feng Luodi at her usual spot by the stone table. What a melancholic sight; why does the young miss always seem so sad?
“I’ll have it in the courtyard today. Fei and I are leaving after breakfast, but we’ll be back before dinner this afternoon.” Feng Luodi set down her zither on the table, and began tuning the strings.
“You’re not bringing us along again?” Scarlet pouted. Why is it always Fei! Ever since he’d joined the household, we rarely have the chance to accompany young miss out anymore! I’ll get Jet to eat his share of breakfast later!
“I’ll need the two of you to stay and accompany Mother, Scarlet. It’s recently gotten warmer, and Mother will need help going about her walks.”
“Yes, young miss.”
Fei came into the courtyard a little before noon, as arranged. “Young miss, it’s time to leave.”
“Feng Luodi stood up the stone bench, and dusted her sleeves casually. “Let’s go.”
She’d never had the habit of using the carriage when leaving the household, partially because she does not have her own, and today was no exception. It was fortunate that the Feng household was on Zhengnan street, just a stone throw away from the main street of Chang’an where Manchun Tang is located.
Feng Luodi arrived at Manchun Tang with Fei, and saw a servant standing at the door. Immediately recognising him as one of the 7th Prince’s servants, memories of their previous encounter flashed through her mind. If it wasn’t for General Situ who arrived in time to help me, I would have been shamed. Worse still, the Feng household would be disgraced as well.
Feng Luodi clenched her fist, the sharp pain she felt from her fingernails biting into her palm the only thing calming her down.
“Miss Feng, the prince has been waiting for you for a long time. Come up with me now.” The servant was expressionless.
Feng Luodi ignored his disrespectful tone, motioning for him to lead the way. Fei followed closely behind, his eyes scanning the stairwell and landings. The servant led the two up to the third floor, passing through the winding corridor. Most of the doors on both sides are closed, only soft indecipherable murmurs floating pass the wooden doors. Few were wide open, their occupants either generous with their secrets, or without anything to hide. When they walked pass an open door, Feng Luodi was surprised to see Situ Muye sitting alone in the dining room.
He was dressed as if he’d just returned from a tour of the Chang’an military base. Clad in a set of raven coloured armour, his brown under-robe showed through his collar and beneath his gauntlets. A long scarlet cape flowed from his shoulders, painting the perfect image of a handsome warrior. Feng Luodi quickly stopped and curtsied to him, and the prince’s servant quickly followed suit.
Situ Muye set down his cup of wine, and walked towards the three of them.
“You are one of the 7th Prince’s men, aren’t you.” He looked at the servant.
The man nodded repeatedly, clearly intimidated by Situ’s commanding presence. “I am indeed one of the prince’s followers, sir.”
Situ Muye turned to Feng Luodi, and his voice was hard. “Where are you going with him?”
Feng Luodi kept her head down. “I have matters to attend to. If you don’t mind, please.”
Situ Muye ignored her protest, and turned to Fei. “You, talk.”
Not heeding Feng Luodi’s glares, Fei quickly spilled the beans. “The 7th Prince had invited Miss Feng to meet here, claiming that he has the Guqin, Wind Crane.”
Situ laughed, producing a harsh sound. He looked at Feng Luodi. “You would face the 7th Prince, just for the sake of a zither? Hmph, foolish.” He scoffed, and returned to his dining room.
Feng Luodi bit her lip, and stood for a few moments. Then she turned to the servant, who was still frozen on the spot, looking into Situ Muye’s room.
“Okay, okay.” The servant started walking down the corridor again, and Feng Luodi followed. She had barely taken a few steps, when she stopped again, feeling undeserving of Situ’s scorn. She shook her head and huffed loudly, then turned and stomped back into his dining room.
Situ looked up in surprise as she came in and sat down naturally across from him. His eyes twitched as she grabbed the flask of wine on the table, and chugged a huge mouthful.
“Gulp.” Feng Luodi swallowed her mouthful of wine, and looked at the table of dishes already set out. “Let’s make a deal.”
“What kind of deal?” Situ looked bemusedly at Feng Luodi, and reached to take the flask of wine from her. Feng Luodi quickly hugged the flask closer to her body, and gestured at the other flask on the table.
“Hey! Don’t be so stingy. You have more for yourself.” She took a few more mouthfuls before continuing. “I’ll pick up the tab for this table, in exchange for you following me to meet the 7th Prince. All you have to do is to stand there and look pretty – no need to say anything at all. Just let me be the fox that exploits the tiger’s might*.” She took a few sips again, bracing herself for the rejection. After all, Situ had no obligation to help her, and the price of a meal was definitely not above his wages.
“You are very honest with yourself.” He laughed, looking bemusedly at Feng Luodi. He quickly got to his feet. “I was just wondering how I was going to pay for this meal, now that Qingjia wasn’t coming. If I can get a free lunch just from standing in a corner, the pleasure is all mine.”
Feng Luodi widened her eyes. How was it that easy to convince him?
Situ walked out of the door, and stopped when he realised Feng Luodi did not follow. Turning, he laughed when he saw the surprised expression on her face. “Shall we?”
Feng Luodi snapped out of her daze, and quickly got to her feet. As she passed Fei, she instructed, “Just wait here for us, and order a few more flasks of wine. General Situ and I will be back soon.”
“Yes, young miss.”
Now it was Situ and Feng Luodi following the servant, sweat beading the man’s forehead. What bad luck, the 7th Prince had planned to embarrass Feng Luodi today! How was I to know that the Duke of Anping would appear as well? I doubt things will go according to plan today.
In another dining room, the 7th Prince waited impatiently for the arrival of Feng Luodi. His last attempt was foiled by Situ Muye, and he hadn’t managed to exact revenge on her for what happened in Moonglade. For that incident, he has been mocked repeatedly by his various cousins and siblings, and it irritated him to no end. Finally, my plan is coming to fruition!
It was almost noon, and there was still no sight of the servant he’d sent down to ‘welcome’ Feng Luodi. “Is she too scared to come?”
He was about to send another servant down to check, but then heard footsteps echoing down the hallway from behind the door. The door swung open to reveal the servant’s face, features scrunched up in an forced awkward smile.
“What’s up with that expression. She didn’t come?” The prince frowned.
“She did,” the servant gestured behind him, “but she came with someone else.”
Feng Luodi walked in, Situ Muye following behind her.
Now the prince panicked. “Ge-General Situ, why are you here?” He frantically instructed his servants to hide the zither, but it was too late. Wind Crane sat on the zither pedestal in the middle of the room, right behind the prince.
Situ shook his head, and opened his mouth to speak, but Feng Luodi cleared her throat, reminding him of their deal. Just stand in a corner and look pretty.
“I was due for lunch with General Situ, but received an invitation for lunch from you as well. I didn’t want to miss meeting the both of you, so I asked him to come along with me.”
“I-Is that so?” the 7th Prince looked to the servant, who shook his head quickly.
His courage returned somewhat, the prince continued. “Miss Feng, please do not lie to me. I’ve never heard of General Situ being close to any girl before; it is a crime to slander the name of a General.”
“Luodi wouldn’t dare to lie about things like that, your Highness. If you don’t believe me, you can confirm with the General yourself.” Feng Luodi was calm.
The 7th Prince looked at Situ Muye, who had remained silent and expressionless this whole time, fulfilling his end of the deal. Situ Muye nodded assuredly, and the 7th Prince swallowed audibly.
Feng Luodi smiled again. “You wrote in your letter, that you are in possession of Wind Crane, and it seems that it is true. However,” Feng Luodi paused, “wasn’t Wind Cane stolen from Moonglade? Now that it has appeared in your possession, I cannot help but wonder if you bought it by chance after the thief had stolen it, or…”
The prince quickly cut in. “Of course I bought it from a merchant.” He laughed nervously. “I’m sure the thieves had sold it to a merchant; I’d just happened to see the Guqin when I was on the streets. I heard that you, Miss Feng, are very interested in this Guqin, and hence invited you today to consider if I shall gift it to you.”
The prince regained his composure, and smiled unnervingly. ” It goes without saying, but Wind Crane comes at a cost.”
Situ Muye remained silent in the corner, the various crimes and underhanded exploitation the 7th Prince had been up to flashing through his mind. He had his own private information network, and they kept a close tab on the prince. The prince was delighted with his own plan. Even though Situ Muye is here with her, he won’t be able to stop her if she is consciously willing to be humiliated by me. And that is very likely, seeing as how desperate she is to get the Guqin.
Unfortunately for him, Feng Luodi did not fall prey to his scheme. “I believe that Wind Crane belonged to Moonglade before the theft. According to the laws of the Xuan Dynasty, anyone who finds a lost item has to turn it in to the yamen. You are of royal blood – surely you wouldn’t think to violate the rules your family have set?”
The prince was stunned by her words. “Wh-what? Is that true?”
“It is known that Wind Crane is very important to Miss Linglong of Moonglade. You must be very attracted to Miss Linglong, seeing as how our conflict had started because I beat her in a competition. If you’d brought her this Guqin that she dearly loved, surely she would be delighted! Indebted to you, I’m sure that you’ll be warmly welcomed whenever you visit her in the future. Just imagine that, your highness.”
The prince was smiling widely now, his head filled with thoughts of Linglong welcoming him and showering him with affection.
Feng Luodi continued. “All I want is to play a song on it – I can just borrow it for a day from Miss Linglong. You have no reason to lose a chance to please Miss Linglong, just for the sake of embarrassing me, your highness.”
The prince nodded fervently. “You’re right, absolutely right. I shall bring this to her right away!”
Ignoring the advice of his followers, the prince grabbed the Guqin and ran out of Manchun Tang. His followers shook their heads, and quickly chased after him. When everyone left the room, Feng Luodi let out a heavy sigh of relief. Situ shook his head, but smiled as well. She’s pretty smart, being able to understand the inner thoughts of the prince.
Feng Luodi grinned. “The 7th Prince is just like they said, his head only filled with thoughts of women.”
Situ sighed, and led the way back to his dining room. “You really don’t know what you’re dealing with, do you. If he was as useless as you said, he would not have been able to stand out amongst the rest of the princes, given the title of a Commandery Prince. Don’t be so rash in the future.”
Feng Luodi widened her eyes. “He was pretending to be foolish?”
Situ smiled, but kept silent.