Chapter 34 Rising Wind: Summer
Despite being situated by the Wei River, summer was as hot as it could be in Chang’an. The cicadas chirped endlessly amongst the trees, increasing the annoyance brought on by the heat.
Feng Luodi sat on the highest floor of a teahouse in Chang’an, taking in the scenery from her vantage point. Although the area was not enclosed, there wasn’t even the slightest wind caught through the bannisters and corridors which were specifically designed to catch the breeze. Perspiration beaded her face as she gulped down a cup of warm tea.
“It’s so hot!” Feng Luodi briefly fanned herself with a paper fan, but quickly put it down after her arm grew tired. Not even a moment had passed before she picked up the fan again, unable to tolerate the heat. That was all she had been doing the entire afternoon, and the annoyance was written clearly on her face.
The heat was not the only reason for her sudden lack of composure; there was also the lack of news regarding the other 9 Guqin. Since Wind Crane, spring had came and left while summer descended on her like a burning furnace, but still not even the slightest information regarding the other Guqin was heard. She had repeatedly checked with the zither shopkeepers in Chang’an to no avail. She had intended to leave Chang’an in her quest to find the other 9 Guqin, but she had barely even mentioned the idea to her parents before the Chamberlain shut her down, lecturing her sternly on the matter. She recalled what her father had said. You will not venture far from this city as long as your parents are still alive! Feng Luodi sighed; there was nothing she could do about it – she was a girl, after all, and she had to obey her parents.
“How will I ever find all 10 Guqin at this rate?” Feng Luodi downed another cup of warm tea. “No wonder Phantom said that finding the 10 Guqin was more about fate than hard work.”
And then there was the problem of acquiring the Guqin after they had been found. The shopkeepers have subtly reminded her on numerous occasions that, even if they had managed to locate any of the Guqin, it would cost a fortune to buy – money that Feng Luodi did not possess. They had deduced that most of the Guqin were held by collectors or maestros, and if that were the case, it would not just be a matter of money – they would have to give it up willingly.
A fortune! Feng Luodi’s face soured at the mere thought of that. Although the Chamberlain and the First Lady gave her a sizeable allowance of silver every month, it would be silly to think that she can purchase a famed Guqin with that measly amount of money! She had briefly entertained the thought of using the Feng household’s wealth to fund her purchases of the Guqin, but quickly extinguished these thoughts whenever they came up. If she had used the Feng household’s silver to pave her way back to the 21st Century, she would never be able to live with herself. After what happened with Linglong that day when she realised her ignorance regarding her parent’s heritage, she had done her research.
The Chamberlain was born a commoner, the only son of a poor family. He studied hard despite his humble background, and started out as a magistrate in a small county. He was just and well loved by the people, and the county prospered under his rule. He was repeatedly promoted in the next few years, his ability recognised, until the position of a Prefect. When the Emperor reached the Chamberlain’s place of governing when he toured the kingdom, he was amazed by the ability of the Chamberlain, and promoted him to his current position and rank.
The Chamberlain met the Yushan Commandery Princess the year he was promoted to his position, and the two married soon after, deeply in love. Although the Yushan Commandery Princess was only the daughter of a Commandery Prince loosely related to the royal family, and her status could not compare to that of a princess of royal descent, she was known in Chang’an for her tenderness, both of her personality and beauty. Her features were soft and attractive, and had many suitors when she first arrived in Chang’an with her father. Although many of her suitors were of higher born or position than the Chamberlain, she had fallen in love with the Chamberlain, and the two were wed soon after.
Footsteps echoed along the hallway, shaking her from her reverie. She raised her head and saw Qi Jianqiu walk into the room, dressed in feminine clothing. Qi Jianqiu had taken up the habit of changing her clothes extremely often, now that summer has arrived. She had accidentally spilt tea on her clothes a while ago, and used it as an excuse to change into new clothes. When she came back, she was dressed in a high skirt that spanned the area between her chest and ankles, outlined in a royal purple. A wide belt sat on her hips, hibiscus patterns swirling along the span of the belt of a deep magenta. A white half-tunic sat on top of her skirt, the sleeves wide and airy, her hair held up in an elegant hairstyle by an elaborate hairpin of white jade.
Qi Jianqiu sighed as she sat down, her expression troubled. She reached out for a cup of tea, and, realising that it was still hot, sighed once more.
“Argh, I can’t take this anymore!” She groaned.
Feng Luodi looked at her curiously. “You were still enjoying yourself just now, before you left to change.” She eyed her clothes bemusedly. “Did changing your clothes bring about a change of mood as well?”
“Luodi,” Qi Jianqiu looked at Feng Luodi with her best puppy eyes, “I don’t want to be married.”
“Then don’t. Nobody is forcing you anyway.” Feng Luodi was puzzled. As far as she knew, the Minister of the Right had had no plans to wed Qi Jianqiu so quickly, wanting her to stay at home with him for at least another year.
“But there are so many suitors! If they all lined up in front of my door, they could reach the other end of the street!” Qi Jianqiu pursed her lips. “I could barely get out of my house just now. Nowadays, almost everyone is trying to flirt with me, some of them even telling me that 17 years old is a good time to get married!” She raised her voice towards the end, evidently upset by the endless suitors.
Feng Luodi quickly poured her a cup of tea, wanting to calm her down. Seems like there are some drawbacks from being too pretty and having a good birth.
Qi Jianqiu took a swig of the tea carelessly, and her face changed. “Argh! The tea is still so hot!” She looked at the sky. “Why is the weather so hot!”
Feng Luodi pouted helplessly at her friend, annoyed by the heat as well. If only there was an air-conditioner in this world, I wouldn’t have to spend my days with this fan that’s barely of any use.
When Jiang Moyin came up the stairs into the room, he saw the two girls by the table, looks of resignation on their faces as they repeatedly sighed.
“Something wrong again?” Although he was the Grand Tutor for the Heir Apparent, supposedly bearing heavy duties and responsibilities, Jiang Moyin had been spending his days with the two girls.
Qi Jianqiu glanced at him. He was dressed in clothes slightly more formal than they were used to seeing, a robe of dark red on the outside, embroidered with suns and moons. The edges were of a bright red, the pattern in fashion at the moment. He must have just came from the palace.
“Why are you here again?” Qi Jianqiu snapped. I’m sure this Jiang Moyin is up to no good. More specifically, he is interested in Feng Luodi! He tried to hide it, but I know that he had tried to find out about Luodi’s likes and dislikes, and is even helping her to search for the 10 Guqin. Hmph! This Jiang Moyin is the same as the playboy Gan Qingjia, who spends his days between the zither parlour, the pear orchards or even the brothels! Only Xue Yiqi is slightly better than the two of them, seeing as how slow and silly he is. I’m sure the First Gentleman who they always hang out with, Situ Muye, is of the same kind as them! What a weird gang!
Jiang Moyin ignored her, and looked patiently at Feng Luodi. Seeing that it was him, Feng Luodi gathered her emotions and smiled. “Just finished with your duties? Was the Heir Apparent satisfied with your teachings?”
Jiang Moyin smiled and shook his head.
“Then it must have been great. You’re always too humble.” Feng Luodi laughed a little, and poured him a cup of tea.
Now Qi Jianqiu was upset, looking at Feng Luodi. “What are you talking about? What about the Heir? Luodi, why do you know so much about him?” Qi Jianqiu sounded very much like an overprotective mother hen.
Before Feng Luodi could reply, Jiang Moyin spoke up. “We write to each other.”
“What?” Qi Jianqiu widened her eyes. “Is meeting each other regularly not enough, that you still have to exchange letters?” Now she was even more upset than when she’d found out about her endless suitors, but looking at Feng Luodi’s expression of nonchalance, Qi Jianqiu could only swallow her words.
For Feng Luodi, she had not given much thought to Jiang Moyin’s actions. He had helped her multiple times now, and was painstakingly caring whenever they interacted. He had never overstepped any boundaries as friends, and Feng Luodi saw him from the bottom of her heart as an elder brother. She had wanted to let him know how important he was to her many times, but felt that perhaps it was just in his nature to be gentlemanly and kind to anyone he met, and it would be awkward for them once he knew how she thought. She looked carefully at Jiang Moyin, and noticed something amiss.
“Moyin, are you not feeling well? Why are you dressed in such clothes when the weather is so hot?”
The heat is unbearable in the summer, and most clothes are made to be light and airy. However, Jiang Moyin’s robes and inner clothes were all of heavier woollen fabric, mostly used in autumn or winter wear.
“Just a little cold is all, nothing of importance.” Jiang Moyin coughed lightly, and drank a cup of hot tea in one mouth.
Feng Luodi frowned, her eyes settling on his hands. Jiang Moyin’s hands were unnaturally pale, his veins visible under the skin. He doesn’t look very right.
Before her thoughts could continue, Qi Jianqiu scooted close and grabbed her arm. “Luodi, I don’t even have the urge to cook anymore these days.”
Feng Luodi smiled, and fanned her lightly. “Perhaps it’s because of the heat?”
“Not that. I’d wanted to start my own business, but my father was furious when I brought up the subject with him. He even said that if I insisted on it, he’ll ban me from cooking and make me take up classes in the arts instead.”
She sighed. “I thought he’d accepted my culinary pursuits, and allowed me to leave the house so often because of how much he supported me in everything I wanted to do. I never expected him to scold me so sternly when I brought this up!”
Jiang Moyin poured himself more tea, and cupped his hands around it. “Even though they had greatly promoted the development of many areas and infrastructure, businessmen and merchants are still frowned upon in our kingdom. This is exceptionally apparent amongst the nobles, who look down upon these merchants regardless of their wealth. You are the daughter of the Minister, and it would reflect badly upon your father if you were to engage in trade. Even his Majesty would be displeased with your father.”
Feng Luodi nodded along. She had known that the Xuan Dynasty looked down on merchants. Although she held the view that all men are equal, and that all trades contribute to the development of a kingdom, she knew that she had to keep her views to herself in this society. While she can do her part to treat everyone equally, she cannot ask the same of everyone.
Qi Jianqiu expressed her displeasure openly. “Who was the one who dictated that the descendants of governmental officials couldn’t engage in trade? This is an archaic rule, one that has to be changed! One can only improve with change.” She gulped tea. “And I don’t even intend to be one of those street hawkers you see every day, exposing myself to all sorts of people. I just want to open a shop, where my ideas can be shown to the world! It’s just like my passion for the culinary arts – I find pleasure in sharing my creativity with the public, and it’s even better if I find someone who can appreciate what I do!”
“I agree with you.” Jiang Moyin nodded. “The Heir has been learning and thinking of ways to fix these problems; problems brought on by the policy of ‘Promoting Agriculture, Suppressing Individual Trade”. He intends to submit a proposal to change the hierarchy ranking of “Officials, Farmers, Craftsmen, Merchants”1 to one that will encourage an even spread across all fields.”
“Will the change happen? If the Heir Apparent writes to the Emperor, then it’ll definitely go through, won’t it?”
Qi Jianqiu finally looked Jiang Moyin in the eye.
He shook his head. “It isn’t that simple. The Heir can only give suggestions; in the end, the decision is up to his Majesty completely. In our kingdom, the Emperor makes all the decisions and considerations, and if he has no intention at all of abolishing the current system, there is nothing anyone can do. Moreover, there are departments and officials dedicated to this system, whom will definitely oppose this change to reduce the workload they would have to do.”
“Oh, I see.” Qi Jianqiu’s face fell. She turned to Feng Luodi, but saw her spacing out. She nudged the girl. “What are you thinking about, Luodi?”
Feng Luodi smiled, and looked at both of them. “You want to have a shop that can fully embrace your creative ideas, don’t you? Maybe we can work together.”
Qi Jianqiu widened her eyes in surprise.
Jiang Moyin smiled, and raised his teacup to his lips. You really are full of surprises.