Chapter 33 Wind Crane: The First Song
Only Physician Zhou was left in the First Lady’s bedroom; everyone else waited in the adjacent room. Weirdly, the Second Lady was stricken with grief, and the Chamberlain had to comfort her instead. Feng Luodi sat atop the stone steps, not bothering with any “ladylike” behaviour. She dug her elbows into her knees, burying her head in her hands.
What am I supposed to do? Every day that I live as Feng Luodi is making my heart feel heavier. I will return to the 21st Century eventually, and the First Lady would have to face the truth that her daughter has passed away. How can I accept all that they do for me, knowing the grief I will eventually cause them?
I had set out on this mission so joyfully, eager to find all 10 Guqin and quickly return to my world. How can I let my resolve waver before I’d even played the first?
Someone let out a deep sigh beside her. Looking up, she saw Jiang Moyin the impeccable gentleman, seated on the steps next to her. Even while sitting on the steps, he still managed to look graceful and elegant. His face was composed, as if he was not the one who let out that wistful sigh.
“I thought you were crying again.” He looked at the clouds floating above them, feigning nonchalance.
“I have no more tears.” Feng Luodi dusted her sleeves, her voice steady.
“Lady Feng would be fine. Physician Zhou is the best doctor in the Royal Infirmary.” Jiang Moyin took a look at her, and quickly turned his head away, not wanting to look at Feng Luodi’s reddened eyes.
“I haven’t thanked you for inviting the Royal Physician yet, Moyin.” Feng Luodi looked at him earnestly. This was the second time he had helped her when she was in dire straits, even though he had no reason to from the start. This thought created a warm feeling in her, calming down her fluttering heart somewhat.
Jiang Moyin shook his head. “I wasn’t the one who invited Physician Zhou. Didn’t you see me Moonglade? It’s impossible for me to run so quickly to fetch the Physician after finding out about this.”
“Feng Luodi’s eyes widened. “Who did, then?”
“It was Situ.” Jiang Moyin laughed. “According to the physician, Situ had met the attendant from your household, the one sent to request for a Royal Physician, by pure coincidence outside the palace gates. When he heard of what happened, he’d quickly requested for Physician Zhou to head to the Feng household. It was lucky the I’d met the physician on the street, as he did not know his way here.”
“Ah, I see.” Feng Luodi rubbed her brow lightly. Now I owe Situ another one.
The two had barely spoken a few words before the door to the First Lady’s bedroom opened, and Feng Luodi shot to her feet. Physician Zhou walked out, looking exhausted. Wiping the sheen of sweat on his forehead, he looked at the crowd that quickly gathered about him.
“The First Lady is no longer in danger. Be sure to have her consume the medicine I’m going to prescribe and rest as much as possible.”
The relief in the air was palpable as everyone let out a breath. The Chamberlain escorted Physician Zhou to the gate, while Fu Bo quickly headed to purchase the required medicinal herbs according to the physician’s prescription. When everyone had left to see to their responsibilities, the Second Lady returning to her courtyard, Feng Luodi took a breath to steady herself, and entered the room to check on her mother. She was out again quickly, not daring to stay longer inside for fear of her emotions taking control of her again.
Seeing Jiang Moyin still waiting in the courtyard, she was about to walk him to the door when she suddenly burst out in laughter.
“What’s wrong?” Jiang Moyin turned to look at her.
Feng Luodi pointed at his back, barely able to contain her laughter. “Ju-just look for yourself.”
Jiang Moyin was dressed in a white robe today, and the dust on the stairs from when he had sat down earlier left a distinctive stain on his rump. That, contrasted with his semblance of a gentleman, made him look ridiculous.
“Finally, you’re laughing.” Jiang Moyin smiled at Feng Luodi, who was still bent over catching her breath.
Feng Luodi was caught off guard by his words. Did he do that just to make me laugh?
“Are you so caring to all the girls you meet?” Feng Luodi teased him, as her spirits lifted a little.
Jiang Moyin shook his head, his eyes never leaving her face. “Of course not. It depends on who it is.”
Feng Luodi looked at the sky. “It’s getting late. Let me walk you to the door.”
“Are you serious? Luodi is waiting for me at the Lake Pavilion?” Dressed in a long dress of topaz yellow, the wide-cut sleeves long enough to reach the floor, Qi Jianqiu grabbed Jiang Moyin by his collar violently. The embroidered birds and flowers on her gown fluttered as she shook him a few times.
Xue Yiqi was dumbfounded by what he saw, his mouth hanging open. The Qi Jianqiu that was composed and elegant a moment ago suddenly morphed into a violent, unreasonable young lady. What did I see?
It took a few more shakes from Qi Jianqiu before Xue Yiqi reacted and quickly stopped her, releasing Jiang Moyin from her demonic clutch.
“Miss Qi, please release him! Second Brother’s body is too weak for this.”
Qi Jianqiu paused, and saw that Jiang Moyin was indeed turning pale. Pursing her lips in displeasure, she reluctantly let go of his collar, cleared her throat, and sat down back in her seat in nonchalance. Xue Yiqi hurriedly stroked Jiang Moyin’s back, helping him to recover from his shock.
Jiang Moyin took a few breaths. “I’m not lying to you. Luodi had told me a few days ago that she intends to meet you when she feels less troubled, and that would be today, at the Lake Pavilion.”
“Is she upset?” Qi Jianqiu asked gingerly. “Is it because of me?”
Jiang Moyin looked bemusedly at her. “It’s because her mother has fallen ill again. Of course, she is upset.”
“Why am I not told that the First Lady Feng has fallen ill again?” Qi Jianqiu stood up anxiously.
“She is already recovering; that’s also why Feng Luodi has decided to meet you today.”
“Okay okay.” Qi Jianqiu nodded repeatedly, then looked up at Jiang Moyin, suspicion plain across her face. “How are you so familiar with Feng Luodi’s state these few days? Since when have you gotten so close to her? Are you trying something funny?”
She looks adorable, even when she’s acting all mean and nasty. Xue Yiqi scratched his head absentmindedly.
Jiang Moyin grinned. “What do you think?” Before Qi Jianqiu could react, he reminded her. “It’s still a long way between here and the Lake Pavilion; you’ll have to leave now to reach on time.”
Qi Jianqiu widened her eyes to scold him, but thought better of it. She huffed loudly and glared at him, before quickly running down the steps to her carriage, her skirts lifted up in her hands.
The hanging willows swayed slowly in the wind, their dance mirrored on the still surface of the lake. Natural flowers bloomed in bunches on both sides of the lake, and birds flitted freely amongst the trees. In the pavilion in the middle of the lake, a girl sat by a stone table, her hands dancing across the strings of her zither.
The girl wore a scarlet inner dress, with a white robe layered on top. Maroon streaks lined the seams, and the robe was adorned with ruby coloured petals. A matching maroon belt held her robe together at her waist, ornamental threads of rose gold draping from her robe. With the zither in her hand, she looked as if she’d just stepped out of a painting.
Qi Jianqiu rarely saw Feng Luodi dressed in tones of red, and never expected that it would look so good on her friend. At that moment, she felt as if Feng Luodi was a deity who had descended to earth just to play a song on her zither, and would return to the heavens any moment. A light smile graced her lips, seeming approachable and distant at the same time. It was just like when we first met. Neither of us has changed.
Qi Jianqiu walked towards the pavilion slowly, the memories of their friendship flashing through her mind. Some were orchestrated, others were authentic. But just because I did not tell her the truth, a catastrophe happened.
Finally, she passed under the final archway of the corridor, and stood a few yards away from Feng Luodi. Feng Luodi did not stop her music, nor did she look up. Qi Jianqiu took a breath and closed her eyes.
“I had no clue who you were, the first time we met. I’d just felt that it was rare to have someone who could relate to me like you did, and nobody had understood my culinary dishes before you came along. Nobody, not even my father, had treated my passion for cooking seriously. But you did. You spoke my exact thoughts when I’d engineered the dishes, and even gave them fitting names.”
“Afterwards, when I found out who you were, I have to admit that I had ulterior motives. I wanted to find out what kind of a person you were, seeing as how you were supposed to marry the 7th Prince like I was. But time passed, and I knew I wasn’t going to marry the prince, and neither were you.”
“I told my father that I didn’t want to marry the prince, and he’d rejected the proposal before his Majesty could declare the engagement. Afterwards, I’d heard that your parents had done similar things, and your engagement to the prince had been called off as well.”
“I was really happy about this, but I never dared to tell you the truth, for fear of my initial deceit ruining our friendship. More than that, I was afraid that this information, and our friendship, may be exploited by others for their selfish means. Luodi, I didn’t mean to hide the truth from you.”
Qi Jianqiu poured her heart out to Feng Luodi, but the latter did not respond. Qi Jianqiu bowed her hand, thinking that she had lost her friend. Tears threatened to fall from her eyes as she was overcome with guilt.
Feng Luodi turned to look at her, her hands continuing with the song. “I know.” She smiled. “I invited you here to hear me play, why did you cry?”
“Don’t you want to hear me explain?” Qi Jianqiu sniffed, surprised by Feng Luodi’s words.
“I do.” Feng Luodi looked earnestly at her. “But I didn’t want to have to ask you for it, and you never approached me again.”
“I did not dare to find you again.” Qi Jianqiu was embarrassed.
Feng Luodi nodded, and gestured for her to sit down. “That’s why I got Moyin to invite you today instead.”
Hearing his name, Qi Jianqiu huffed angrily and sat down. “Didn’t you always address him as Master Jiang? Since when were the two of you so close?”
Feng Luodi smiled. “During the period when you stopped going out with me.”
Qi Jianqiu pursed her lips. In some aspects, Luodi and Jiang Moyin are so similar.
They sat in silence for a while, feeling the wind breeze across the lake. Qi Jianqiu spoke softly.
“Luodi, I am glad to have met you.”
“Me too.” Feng Luodi smiled, and set her hand to the strings again, teasing a few notes from the zither.
“Is this Wind Crane?”
“Nope. I’ve returned the Guqin a long while ago. Anything you’ll like to hear me play?”
“Yes! Play for me a song from the maestro you’ve told me about before! The one whose songs are different from most others, but are always so moving.”
I wrote this by the orchid pavilion
In a script of flowing water
By moonlight I open the door
And I see you in my heartstrings
Outside the pavilion where the Guqin sits
A few drops splatter on my heart
The sun shines brightly in the afternoon
And I shy from your beauty
A dot of cinnabar adorns your forehead
Your beauty bewitching the world
Between the span of my fingertips
The years speed by into oblivion
The wind breezes across the lake
You turn and smile at me
In the heat of summer we dance
And how I wish we will never stop
“How is it? I’ve changed a bit myself.”
“It’s amazing. Everything you play is amazing.”